Wednesday, February 10, 2016

NHL's New App

The NHL has rolled out the revamping of their online properties, and it isn't horrible.

For the most part, I can still find what I'm looking for, just not all of what I'm looking for.

I'm still not sure where I go to access the audio for games from the website, though I can find it just fine on the app. I've gotten around this by going directly to the radio station's website, because the only time I want audio on the computer is when I'm blacked out of a Blackhawks game, and I know how to find WGN Radio online.

It's odd how some of the new features seem designed for less than avid fans while others seem designed with the avid fan in mind to the exclusion of those less so.

On the one hand, my phone sends me reminders when my "Favorite" team has a game, a few hours before it starts. Thank you, NHL App, but I have those games on my calendar. I look at them; I know when one is going to be on. I look forward to when they aren't blacked out. Why do you remind me of a game I've been looking forward to since the last game?

On the other hand, the standings page on the website no longer designates the teams' conferences in the conference standings, leaving my husband to have to double check with me on the matter of which team is first in the Pacific. Or to switch the view. But those little C's and P's and A's and M's were helpful.

I think that most of the little things will shake out. I was surprised at the mid-season roll out, but not surprised that there were issues, especially with the broadcasts on the first night. Most of the issues I find I can shrug off.

But there is one that bugs the heck out of me.

On the app, in the Scores area, the app will display the words "Power Play" under the names of both teams when one is on a power play. No, NHL App, no. Only one team is on a power play. Why must I click all the way through to stats to find out which team is on the power play? They cannot both be on a power play!

Fix this!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Writing Literarily

I have a lot of work to do this month. At work, I have a variety of projects that I'm testing and shepherding. I have a new employee's training to oversee. I have to write a performance evaluation for the first time for another employee. I have a presentation to prepare for a conference coming up in early March. And then there are all the little fires to put out as they flare.

And so, when I found that I couldn't sign up to hand in my first story for class after the conference, I decided to get it done sooner rather than later. I would have signed up to hand it in last week, but I was going on a vacation to visit my family and I didn't want to make myself try to write it when I'd be traveling and visiting for so many days.

So I signed up to hand mine in yesterday. That due date gave me a nice, non-travel weekend to work on it. And I had everything planned out. I scheduled myself to write 1000 words each day on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and, if needed, Saturday. Sunday and Monday would be revision days to get it into shape for sharing.

In part, I believe, because of my success with the January Tabata challenge, where I committed to and did two 4 minute exercises every day that month, I rose to the challenge of writing a story on a tight timeline. I had no time to work on the story during work. Even my lunch time wasn't a good time for writing, because my brain needed to relax and decompress.

I wrote about 1000 words of story on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I wrote more words of background, trying to figure out who my character was before I wrote her story, because I felt like the stories we had read the previous week by students had trouble in part because the author didn't know who the character was. In that, I feel I treated it more like the literary-focused class would have preferred.

But then I wrote into the dark.

I placed my character in a situation and figured out where it was going by writing it. A break in routine led to more characters. A vague idea of what might happen next developed into something I didn't expect until I wrote it. And I never imagined the ending from where I began. I had fun with the story. The words weren't difficult, for the most part. I just needed to keep exploring.

Since the writing into the dark technique of Dean Wesley Smith's worked so well, I went ahead and submitted the story to a magazine before I even handed it out to my workshop classmates. I got a rejection for it yesterday, and I'm going to send it out again. It's a story I like. There's no reason not to keep it "in the mail."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Review of Duolingo

According to Duolingo, I'm 52% fluent in Spanish, after about 75 days of hard work. I wasn't starting from zero with Spanish. In fifth through eighth grades, my school provided language classes. We took some Spanish, some German and some French, but mostly Spanish. Unfortunately, we could never hold onto a teacher, so we started over every year.

My dad grew up speaking Spanish in Peru, but it was not something that he passed on to my brother and me. There are times that I wish he had, but I do have a good grasp of the English language, so I shouldn't complain.

I started using Duolingo knowing some very basic Spanish and a few phrases useful for greeting and communicating with my relatives. I think that got me past the very first lessons on Duolingo, maybe six of them. I had next to no grammar and a vocabulary that would have prevented me from reading a Spanish version of Dr. Seuss.

My goal was to learn enough Spanish by the time I went to visit my grandmother, who does not speak much English, that I could communicate with her. And, by the time I left, I had attained level 13, with 5700 XP. I'd made it past the irregular future construction and the past and present perfect, both of which turned out to be very helpful, grammatically speaking. I found out, during that visit, that present tense is not very helpful in conversation.

And, I mean, I probably knew that, but until you are trying to communicate with someone while using a limited word and grammar arsenal, it doesn't really hit home. I can rattle off English without even thinking about what tense I'm using, but in Spanish, I found myself struggling to construct a proper sentence. Still, the 52% seemed like a decent assessment. I could communicate most of what I wanted to say, resorting to pointing and pantomime only a few times.

And I could understand the gist of what my grandmother, and other relatives, including my dad, were saying better than I could speak. I might not have known the precise tense they were using, but I could catch the roots of the words and fill in the blanks using context clues. For the most part.

I don't think I'm ready to go and live in a Spanish speaking country, but I think I could navigate through one, though not gracefully. And I feel more confident, having spent some time living with the language, rather than just studying it. I'm satisfied with what Duolingo has done for my Spanish skills, and in a short amount of time. My only complaint is that I'm learning Spain-Spanish and the section on Countries didn't even mention Peru. I guess I'll have to rely on my relatives to catch on to Peruvian slang.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fiction Perspectives

I did not intend to take the class that I'm taking this semester. The class that I wanted to take was incompatible with my work situation. And so, I find myself taking a fiction workshop class, the third such I have taken in this quest to learn how to write better. The first two were in the first year of this experiment. This is the fifth and final year.

Why would I not want to take a workshop class on fiction? It isn't just that the ones I took years ago didn't seem to do much for my writing. It isn't just that I had this instructor before and was not thrilled with the prior performance. The main reason is that I don't believe in the process.

In this class, revision is expected. Not just, write a story, submit for workshopping and then revise. No, revision is seen as an essential part of the process of writing - write a bit, revise a bit, write some more, revise some more. And I think that however well that might work for some people, it isn't how I operate.

I've, perhaps, been reading too much of Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He encourages allowing your creative voice to tell the story. Write the story once and don't revise. To him, revision destroys what makes your story original and interesting. Polishing a manuscript takes away all of its sharp edges - those points that might catch the interest of a reader or an editor (aka the people who can buy your story).

And even before I was contaminated by that particular point of view, I didn't take to the process of revision. Once I've written a piece and checked for typos, I have a hard time revisiting it. But, I also have a hard time getting it out to the public. Part of that comes from not being able to sell the short stories that I write, and part is fear. It's a bit of a loop. I can't sell any stories so I don't want to send any out.

But now I've made a promise. I'm going to be writing a story, a literary story, if you please. And I'm going to be sharing it with other aspiring writers, opening my words and opinions to their critiques. A revision will be due.

Why then, did I take this class?

Because even though I don't want to work the way this class expects me to work, I think it will be a useful exercise. I will figure out what to do by keeping myself aware of what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to insert meaning with my inner critic. I'm going to let myself play with a story, and see what happens.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hike with Me: The Wild Coast

Well, it took a little longer than I thought it would, especially considering I had the text mostly finished early in November. But books take the time they take. And life takes the time that it takes. And the important thing is that I've finished and published the third book in my Hike with Me series, a passion project that brings together two of my favorite things: backpacking and writing.

I've learned a lot in the two years since I published my first one. My pictures have improved, and so has my writing. I've finally expanded my distribution beyond Amazon, and I'm looking into other ways to bring attention to my writing.

After last year, I'm not planning ahead as much for this series. I don't know, at this moment, what my next Hike with Me project will be, only that I will have one and it will be the best yet. Because I will keep improving, keep adventuring and keep sharing.

Check out my adventure (co-starring my husband) on the Wild Coast for free through January 31st using this coupon code: LS32T and this link to purchase the ebook (Smashwords account required). It is also available through Amazon and other retailers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Enough of That!

This year, I feel comfortable enough with the process of printing books through Createspace, to take a risk. I will not be ordering a paper copy for proofing this year.

Usually, the first thing I do with the paper proof is admire it. The books look good, to my biased eyes, and smell like books. Then, I brace myself for the editing pass. My first reader goes first, but I have to do my turn, trying to find every possible typo, awkward wording and extraneous word. It's helpful, in that task, to have the paper copy to mark up.

Without the paper copy to rely on, I made notes on paper regarding the digital proof I reviewed this year. (I also got my husband to write notes.) Thanks to my last class on writing creative nonfiction, I was more conscious of phrasing than I have been in the past. I noticed a particular word kept reappearing in the text, whether it was needed or not. Again and again, I wrote "that" when writing nothing would do. I almost did it just now ("I noticed that a particular word").

I know in my initial pass, I caught some of the instances of "that," and marked them for change. But I knew there might be more. And so, after Ambrose and I had both done our read-throughs, and I had made my corrections, I used a writer's most awesome tool: Ctrl+F.

Some of my "that" uses were legitimate. Used as a pronoun? Keep it. That's fine. "At that time" - delete them all! And my uses were, while not ungrammatical, excessive and unnecessary to the flow of the sentences. I left quite a few in the text, but I also deleted over 200 of them. Maybe 300. The version of Word I'm using doesn't count them. I also went after "actually" and "really" with the word hatchet.

And I think that the text is improved for the cuts. It has enough "that," but no more.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Progress: The Nitty Gritty

I had already chosen the photos that I wanted to use for the next Hike with Me book. All I needed to do was create what I'm calling the photo plates. When I first researched using photos in a CreateSpace book, I discovered that using Word to put captions on photos was not a reliable way to do things. I use Gimp to put my photos and their captions onto precisely sized and print quality images.

The process for this isn't terribly difficult, but it is time consuming. I'm not sure if I made it more time consuming this year by trying for efficiency. I figured that since my first reader would have something to say about the captions, I should have him evaluate the captions as I wrote and added them to the photo plates. It seemed like it would be easier to fix them while I was working on them, rather than having to go back and fix them after he'd read them in the proof of the book.

All the photo plates are now complete, and, in the course of designing the new cover, I've also submitted updates for the covers of the first two Hike with Me books. Once those updates are completed on CreateSpace, I'll trickle them down to the ebook versions, since the biggest change is in the title design.

The next step is inserting the photos into the Word document. For the print book, this process is a bit more finicky than for the ebook. I prefer each of the narrow photos, for example, to be on the outside, rather than near the spine. Whenever a photo changes position, it influences the position of the text that comes after. For the ebook, I use an html layout view and simply stick the photo plates where they should be in order, no need to worry about page position. It will be fairly simple to convert the print book document into an ebook ready one.

The Wild Coast will, I think, be an improvement over the last book, as Queens River Loop was an improvement over Stump Lake. I'm continuing to learn more not only about how better to write, but also how better to prepare for the production of this particular kind of book. They aren't really travel books, but I suppose that's the best classification. They are adventure books. I find backpacking to be a wonderful adventure, and, in those books, that's what I want to share.