Counting words…

Some of you may have noticed the little progress meter in the left hand column. It is a word count tool of sorts.

I have not obsessed about how many words I write each day, and I am fairly happy with my productivity. But I was curious enough to start tracking my output. And since the bar is in a very prominent position on the blog page, I figured I should explain it a little.

First off, the number of words represents the number of new first draft words produced since I put the bar up. I am not sure how to count story editing so I won’t even try.  I will be counting rewrites, but only if new first draft words are being added. I will only be counting prose fiction. This blog, writing for the day job, grocery lists, emails and the like will not be counted. I may count any poetry I happen to write, but those things are rare for me.

The red number is the “goal” number of words. The tool required that I include this. Most tools like this are geared for novelists with goal word counts. I don’t have a goal word count. Anyone that was concerned that I was writing a novella can now relax. I know that novellas are extremely hard for novice writers to get accepted. I may write a novella, but only if the story demands that I use that length to tell it. Just for fun I chose to use 200 words per day as a goal because it seemed attainable based on my productivity to date. The 21400 word goal reflects that daily word count extended to the end of the calendar year. If I exceed that number, fine. If I don’t reach that number, fine. I am really just curious about my productivity in a measurable form. First Draft Word Count.

The website that provided the progress meter also has a simple word count tool that I can paste any text into and let it count the words for me.

For example this blog post up to this point … is 354 words.

So, 200 words does not seem like much. I do find that writing a story is a little more difficult, time consuming, and rewarding than rambling about stuff in a blog entry.

Feel Free to Disagree …

I am an opinionated guy. I don’t mind sharing my opinions either. I know that sometimes, possibly, maybe, perhaps, I hold the wrong opinion. This is why when I started up this blog I created a category named Feel Free to Disagree. I expect people to disagree with me from time to time. I would like to hear what they have to say, because I am one of those people that strives hard to keep an open mind. I have been known to change my opinions after a reasoned discussion or two (or many).

And even if I end up not changing my mind, I will still be better for having had the reasoned discussion. I personally think it is a very good thing that not everyone agrees with each other. As an example I was at one time very rabid in my opinion about gun control laws. After some reasoned discussion with a close friend I have abated my opinion a bit. I am still for gun control laws, but have backed off on some of the more stringent ones that just might infringe on our basic rights as US citizens. I still think that if one needs basic training, an operator’s license, and a registration for using a motor vehicle in public areas, that the same could and should hold true for public use of much deadlier guns.

But I am not talking about just politically charged issues here. I have placed the Feel Free to Disagree category on other things as well. My entertainment, fiction and nonfiction reviews are a prime examples. I know that at least two prominent Science Fiction authors have read this blog and my review of stories they have had published in Asimov’s SF. One left a comment. The other linked to my review.  Neither review was a glowing praise fest. I would hope that anyone that might disagree with my comments in any review would feel free to speak up. I am sure these authors would like even more feedback than just from me. I would love to hear from more authors. I know I am not perfect. Perhaps a poet could help me expand my knowledge of that art form. I would love to be able to give better reviews of poetry than I am able to do at present.

All of us carry our own baggage into any endeavor we undertake. Sometimes the baggage gets in the way of listening to reason, or understanding a particular point of view.  We all turn a blind eye to the little flaws in things that we like.  Sometimes we don’t notice a tree because it is part of a forest.  I personally wouldn’t mind examining a flaw or two (or many) in my thinking.  I would love to have a discussion on, say, the author of a fantasy novel that I reviewed recently. You know, that author that was over-hyped in the late 1970’s and touted as the next JRR Tolkien.

Please, Feel Free to Disagree. Just don’t be disagreeable while you are doing it. Okay?

Procrastination Cessation …

Hello. I am a procrastinator. I sometimes can keep my head down and get things done, but over the last year I have really let a lot of things slip. I am going to rectify that.

I stumbled across an interesting meme here on the internet. It is called “101 Things to Do in 1001 Days“. The idea is to complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days. The tasks must be specific (i.e. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (i.e. represent some amount of work on my part). I realize that some of the tasks on my list may not seem to fit the requirements, but I think that even the most mundane ones will be stretching (and hopefully breaking) my procrastination. I like this meme because it gives focus like other “beating procrastination” exercises, but it also sets a time table that won’t cause panic or frustration. 1001 days is approximately 2.74059 years. That is a long time.

I am going to participate. But a lot can happen in 2 and three quarter years. Kids get married or graduate from college. There could be more grandkids. We could win the lottery. For this reason I am reserving the right to revise this list based on a major life event. I mean, if I win the lottery then fixing the van is not a stretching task anymore, right. A stretching task to replace the van task would be setting up trust funds for loved ones, or building them houses.

My list of 101 Things can be found on the sidebar as a sub-page under “About Me.” It contains such mundane things as taking care of all the broken door knobs in our house, and using and returning a power washer I borrowed from a friend over a year ago. It contains necessary things like doing my back exercises and and cleaning up my pack-rat messes (I am a hoarder of useless things. It’s genetic.) The task list has a few hard things like learning to read music (which I have failed at before), and important things like working with my parents and sister on formalizing the ownership of the family farm to protect it from seizure should my parents’ medical costs spiral out of control. It also has fun things for me, like going on a “get away” with just Doris (beach, cabin in the woods; something we have talked about for years), and reading all the Hugo Award winning novels that I have not yet read.

I took me the better part of a week to create the list. I strove hard to keep all the tasks realistic and important, even the fun ones. Don’t wish me luck, tell me “It’s about time!”

Brag: Acting Again

Over on the SFReader.com Discussion Forums there is a special forum for people to brag about their writing accomplishments. I think it is cool to give people permission to brag about themselves. Because while we all know someone who brags on them self constantly, it seems to me that most people find it very uncomfortable to toot their own horn. Me? I’d like to think I fall somewhere in the middle. And yet I found myself sitting on this bit of news, not willing to tell people because I was afraid they might think my ego had gotten the better of me. Well, after the week I have had at work (yes, I know it is only Tuesday morning), I figure I need to focus on the good things.

I got a call a few weeks ago from Pike County’s local playwright, Delmar Burkitt. Delmar is a nationally published playwright and I know that his plays have been performed in high schools across the nation. I have acted in four plays he has written and directed. He was looking to cast people in an upcoming comedic dinner theater play. Since the performance dates fit with my schedule, and since I have discovered that I enjoy acting, I agreed to be in the cast. The ego boost of being asked to perform without an audition is big enough, but that is not my brag.

My brag is that after I agreed to perform, Delmar told me that he was calling because he hadn’t written the play yet, and wanted to be able to write it with specific actors in mind. Wow. The part is being written specifically for me! How cool is that!??

The Phone is Dead

Here at Swamp Acres we are starting our third day (24 hour period) without our land line phone. If anyone needs to contact me, try Doris’ cell. If you don’t have her cell number, send me email. If you don’t have my email, post a comment to this entry. Our phone goes dead periodically, although it is normally only off for less than 24 hours. It doesn’t happen a lot, but often enough to be annoying. The irritating thing is I think I know what is happening.

Somewhere along the path from my house to the first switch a technician thinks our twisted pair is available and simply disconnects us. One tech slipped up and basically told me that he had disconnected me the day before when he was connecting someone else’s new line. He said it wasn’t marked correctly. You see, we use to have two land lines. One for voice and one for data. For some reason the phone company insisted that the data line was the primary line. When we got broadband I canceled that phone number. Ever since then we get disconnected periodically. There is no pattern… it could be a few months between disconnects or, as in earlier this year, just a week or two. In every single case when the tech finally begins working on our problem, it is fixed within what seems like minutes.

I bet our line has been labeled with that old data line number that is disconnected, and the techs keep using it thinking that those wires are up for grabs. If this keeps up I just may switch to VOIP (voice over IP) using my high gain wireless broadband. If cell phone signals came in stronger here at the house, I’d get a second cell phone and attach it into Doris’ service plan and disconnect the land line phone altogether. I am getting fed up with the shoddy service. Who is my phone company? Well, let me say that if they used there “Can you hear me now?” ad campaign for their land line service, they could be sued for truth in advertising.

56 hours and counting without local phone service… tick, tick, tick.

Proud Papa

I don’t think I have bragged about my boys enough.

All three of these young men are extremely intelligent, independent, creative and fun to be around. They have many similar traits. They are all quick witted. They have a broad sense of humor. They all have eclectic tastes in music (my fault) and reversing roles, they have all started to share their favorite music with me. Granted all of these things manifest in differing ways, but they are all strong well rounded personalities. They seem to know what direction they want their lives to go, and I am doing my best to keep out of their way. I know they will come to me if they need help or advice because they already have. All three are “man enough” to give out hugs and tell the people they love that they love them. They make me so very, very proud.

Justin is our oldest. He has a very good eye for pictures: stills and video. He is also a natural sketch artist. The avatar I use at the top of the navigation column is a rendition Justin did of me several years ago. It is a subtle caricature that looks enough like me that if you saw me in real life (without a ball cap on) you would know who I was. I have a carefully preserved crayon drawing of Charlie Brown that Justin did before he entered kindergarten. He didn’t have to tell me it was Charlie Brown, it was that good. I see his talent for seeing things with an artistic eye showing up in the mundane parts of life. These have shown up as slide show pictures on his computer’s screen saver. Ordinary events become extra-special. He does even better with pictures of people. I hope someday to sit in a movie theater and watch a film he’s directed.

Chris is our middle son. He has a mind like a steel trap. During much of his younger life I thought his talents leaned only towards science and math. I was wrong. Yes, he has that talent set, but he also has a creativity that can only be described as ‘thinking the box never existed’. He has discovered computer programming, and has discovered that he likes it. Just for fun he created a computer simulation of a Rubik’s Cube. He has discussed computer theory with me, yet I do not think that he has taken a computer theory class yet. For him the light bulb of understanding what computer programming is has come on. I just hope the freedom of creativity within the computer programming industry remains flexible long enough for him to flex its limits. Oh, and he installed Linux on his laptop because Windows is obsolete (archaic and useless).

Derek is our youngest. His kindness and wit have always made my heart skip for joy. If he is given any time at all to think about just about anything, he can come up with a humorous twist on it. He created a faux Subway restaurant advertisement featuring Zombies and the catch phrase “Eat Flesh!” OK, maybe you’d have to see it. Currently he is building his creativity confidence at art school in another state. I really like his work. I am not a professional graphic artist or critic, but I have seen “professional” work that is not as good as some of his school work. He has a very good artistic eye. He can show mood and emotion in his work. There is one little sculpture that he told me about that I am dying to see. I’d rather see Derek first, though. I really miss him.

I have been showing my proud grandpa side around here lately. I think the main reason why I can be such a proud grandpa is that I am already proud of my grandson’s father. Owen’s uncles are no slouches either.

It hit me tonight while chatting with Chris and Justin (and missing Derek) that if they were not my sons, they are still men that I would want to have as friends.

I love them.

Why VPN Doesn’t Work on all Broadband

[22 MAR 09 UPDATE: This post fostered an idea for a story I wrote. You can read “VPN Doesn’t Work” at Every Day Fiction.]

I have mentioned here that I must use VPN (Virtual Privacy Networking) to connect into my work computer network.  VPN is a secure way to connect a personal computer anywhere out on the internet to a host computer in a way that ensures that no hackers can snoop in on the data stream.  It is really more complicated than that, but that is the gist of it.  In monitoring my blog hits, especially the search engine hits that direct people here, I see that more than a few are searching for information about VPN connectivity.  I have a little experience with the most common search I have seen: “Why doesn’t VPN work on all broadband connections?

I have found two major reasons for this.  The first, and most frustrating, is that your ISP may not maintain or present a persistent IP address to the outside world.  For normal internet use this is no big deal.  It really doesn’t matter all that much if every time you make a request in a web browser your IP sends that request on a different IP.  This is sometimes called packet-switching.  As long as your IP can route the returned data back to your web browsing session everything seems fine.  An example of an ISP that did this was DirecTV’s DirecWay, now HughesNet.  At the time I investigated using their broadband they had three levels of access.

  • The first was the cheapest.  It pulled incoming data off the satellite feed that DirecTV uses, yet the outgoing data had to be transmitted via a land phone line.  This kind of connection will never work with VPN because it needs a single common communication link.
  • The second was more expensive.  It required a special satellite dish that transmitted data as well as received it.  For normal internet usage it was blazing fast.  However, VPN kept getting disconnected.   I had this installed for a while.  I could connect to my work via VPN but the connection would drop shortly after connection.  This is because when you are authenticated via VPN it notes the IP address that you are using.  If that IP address changes, it appears that you are dropped because the host computer no longer recognizes you as being authenticated.  Just about any ISP that provides its end users with an IP address that begins with 10 does packet switching and will have a problem with VPN.  And because of the packet switching, real time online games would sometimes hang, stutter or run at slower than dial-up speeds.
  • Their final solution appears as if it would have worked.  But frankly, I only needed the one connection with a static IP address.  I didn’t need to buy an entire freaking small business solution at the cost of several thousand dollars a month.

The second problem I have seen may be fixable in some cases.  This problem deals with the type of security protocol that is being used with the VPN.  IPSec has been the most common, but that is changing now that SSL is becoming more popular, that is changing.  What happens in this case is that your ISP and your host computer may have conflicting (incompatable) or different security.  Some ISPs are willing to accomidate the customer and make sure that the security works, other ISPs won’t or can’t due to lack of hardware resources or due to lack of experienced personnel.   Of course the other alternative is to ask the IT staff that run your host computer to permit your ISPs security protocol.  I have found this to not be an effective solution for my workplace.

There you have it.  Some broadband connections won’t work with VPN because of a non-persistent IP address (packet switching) and others won’t work if the security protocols used by your ISP and your host are not compatable.

Keep searching.  Eventually you will find an ISP that fits your needs.  For me that solution was an ISP that uses  a wireless directional high-gain radio to transmit and receive data.  I have one of those funky sideways antennas you see on at police stations mounted to my roof.  My ISP provided me with a static IP address and I have never lost a VPN connection due to anything other than a power failure at a radio tower five miles away.

The lesson I learned is that all “broadband” connections are not the same.  The first question I will always ask an ISP is “do you support VPN”.   And be prepared to ask if they support your host’s security protocol.