Monday, November 30, 2009

Done and done

I wrote 10,700 words of fiction today, bringing my total for NaNoWriMo to just under 52,000 words, which got me this lovely parting gift:

I may post more about this year's experience later, but for now, here are some totally misleading statistics.

The official word tracker (shown below) is wildly inaccurate, because at least twice (including last night, when I did 7,300 words), I updated my total after midnight, and so it was added to the next day's count instead. I would really prefer to be able to manually assign my word counts to specific days, since until the verifier goes live on November 25th it's all manual updates anyway.

Because of OryCon 31 and other obligations, I only actually spent 15 out of 30 days writing this year's novel. My lowest word-count day was 570 on November 17th, and my highest was 10,700 on November 30th (which may also be the most words I've ever written in a single day for anything).

My mean average word count per working day was about 3,400. If I throw out the highest and lowest outlying data points, it's 2,900. But first draft is not my problem. Revision is what kills me.

As per usual, I did minimal outlining, though I did keep notes and make sketches throughout the month. The final novel actually did contain all the elements I anticipated when I filled out this form at the kick-off party:


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Sidrav Corsol's Backstory"

Yes, I know this is a day late, but it's not like you couldn't have found this week's story otherwise. I really only post these pointers for the sake of completeness.

Read "Sidrav Corsol's Backstory" at 512 Words or Fewer


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SnoutCast #1: ZombiePortLand

After writing one "GC Musings" blog post in September, it occurred to me that any such discussions should include my lovely wife DeeAnn, who's been an integral part of every Snout Game. She handles the budget, most of the logistics, and many other planning aspects.

As the latest of our various experiments, she has grudgingly agreed to join me in an irregular podcast about games (note lowercase "g"--we will definitely talk about puzzle hunts, but we reserve the right to digress).

Here's the first episode. It's pretty rough, but either we'll get better, or we'll stop:

[ Download mp3 ]

Oh, yeah, it's also 53 freakin' minutes long. Show notes below so you can skip all the boring stuff.

00:50 - We start with the profanity right away.
04:42 - Left 4 Dead 2 (buy from Amazon)
15:35 - Curtis' talk at Ignite Portland 7 (video and slides)
26:39 - Recap of Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland
50:21 - Happy Thanksgiving! The end.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Baby Got Back," and "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton

P.S. If you'd like to join our zombie-killing party sometime, we're sparCKL and SoleChen on Xbox Live.

CKL DeeAnn

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes

EDITED (10 Jan 2015) to fix broken video and photo embed links.

For those who couldn't attend, here's a recording of the puzzle hunt talk I gave at Ignite Portland 7 on November 19, 2009!

The talk includes a walk-through of one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000), and I love that several people in the audience applauded for the "a-ha" moment and the solution at the end. That's what it's all about, folks.

It's difficult to see the complete slides in those videos, so if you want to solve the embedded puzzle, you should look at these still images:

Ignite Portland 7

As noted, tweet @teamsnout if you figure it out. First person to post the correct solution wins verifiable, time-stamped bragging rights. :)

Thanks to all the Ignite Portland staff, volunteers, speakers, and attendees for contributing to a great event, and to Jeff Stribling of MegaHard GC for providing a copy of the Clue for me to photograph.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In a Crowded Theater

This Thursday night, I'll be presenting "How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes" at Ignite Portland 7. The title is, of course, hugely misleading; I'll be discussing puzzle hunts in general and walking through one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000) at breakneck speed.

For those unfamiliar with the Ignite format: Each speaker gets exactly five minutes to present. You submit twenty slides, and each one advances automatically after fifteen seconds. Topic-wise, pretty much anything goes; this time around there'll be talks about DB Cooper, robots, karaoke, hooping (with live demo), and more.

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an embedded puzzle in my slides.

Check out the complete lineup, and if you're not in Portland, visit the web site on Thursday for info on the live video stream.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Missing Music

The best thing about the short-lived 2000 Bruce Campbell TV series Jack of All Trades is the main title theme song. Really! It was nominated for an Emmy and only lost because it was up against The West Wing. (But composer Joe LoDuca landed on his feet. He's working on Leverage these days.)

Hear the genius for yourself:

D and I have been re-watching Pinky and the Brain recently, which also has a great theme song. This is one thing I miss about modern TV shows. I blame Frasier for starting the trend and shows like Lost for exacerbating it (though the latter did make for a nice comedy bit at this year's Emmys).

I mean, if ever there was a show crying out for a theme song, it's Glee. Come on, guys. SRSLY.

Writer Lee Goldberg does a TV Main Title of the Week feature on his blog, and it's worth subscribing to his feed just to see these. They're not all good--quite a few are real clunkers--but as my friend Brian says, the main titles should tell you what to expect from the show itself. A good theme song should tell you, in about a minute, whether or not you are the audience for that show, and if you are, should make you want to go watch it immedately.

Here's a perfect example:

I rest my case.


Friday Flash Fiction: "Part of the Solution"

You know the old saying:

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.


Read "Part of the Solution" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Um, gee, thanks, Facebook...

...but I think you may have confused me with someone else. Screenshot:

I'm not saying I wouldn't want to be Ray Bradbury's friend. I just don't think he would click "confirm" on that request.

What I'd really like to know is which connection Facebook mined to determine that I should be friends with Mr. Bradbury. Lacking any other evidence, I (as so many others have) choose to blame Scalzi.


The World's Only Reliable Newspaper

No, I'm not talking about The Onion; I'm talking about Weekly World News. The Onion is "America's Finest News Source." WWN is "the World's Only Reliable Newspaper." Get it straight.

Anyway, the good news is, you can now read back issues of WWN's print edition (and several other magazines) on Google Books. The bad news is, the WWN archives only span from January, 1981, to August, 2007. You could go to their web site, but it's just not the same. Call me old-fashioned, but there is a certain charm to the badly Photoshopped black-and-white tabloid layout.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Here V Go Again

Just watched the pilot for the new V television series (based on the 1983 miniseries). No spoilers here, but I will say this: an awful lot of pipe, not a lot of details, and still quite a few science errors.

Because they recycled this particular plot point from the 1983 original, I'll mention it: is anyone with any knowledge of astronomy really going to believe that aliens looking for water would sail through an Oort cloud full of icy comets and several outer planets with icy moons just so they can get liquid water from Earth? Does their advanced otherworldly technology include gravity control but not, y'know, heating elements? (Bonus round: if you have seemingly ubiquitous anti-gravity devices, why do your ships still need rocket thrusters?)

Also, I would have called the big reveal after act two, except I thought it was so preposterous that they wouldn't go there. I guess the moral here is, never underestimate the ridiculousness of most TV writing.

(Sidebar: in his collection Playgrounds of the Mind, sf author Larry Niven talks about how he and Jerry Pournelle pitched a story idea for the original, 1980s "V" series to NBC. You'll find that anecdote in the essay "The Lost Ideas," and their proposed backstory for the Visitors could have been a lot of fun, if implemented by the right showrunner.)

But it wasn't all bad. I did enjoy the little genre in-jokes, including the crowds gathering in "Oceanic Plaza" in the teaser and the Independence Day dig. I would have enjoyed them a little more if ABC weren't so obviously desperate to catch the Lost lightning in a bottle again, both with this show and FlashForward.

I'll give V a few more episodes, but I'll say what I've said before: I like a little more science in my science fiction.


Hot and Cold FlashForwards

I've watched the first six episodes of FlashForward, the TV series "inspired" by the Robert J. Sawyer novel, and so far: meh. Not sure if I'm going to keep watching. The premise is interesting, and I like some of the characters, but the story being told isn't really to my taste.

Speaking of characters, is anyone else amused by the fact that several of the people central to the plot are being played by non-Americans? To wit:
  • Joseph "Ralph's brother" Fiennes as alcoholic FBI agent Mark Benford;
  • Sonya "I was Penny on LOST" Walger as Benford's long-suffering wife, Olivia;
  • Brian "bit player" O'Byrne as Benford's Jedi Master AA sponsor;
  • Jack "that dude from Coupling" Davenport as a mysterious stranger; and
  • Dominic "I was Charlie on LOST" Monaghan as another mysterious stranger.
Also note that the mysterious and possibly eeevil strangers are the only ones speaking with their natural accents. Them foreigners is trubble, I tell ya!

My two favorite characters are FBI agents Demetri Noh and Janis Hawk, played by John "Harold from Harold and Kumar" Cho and Christine "you probably don't remember me from that one episode of House" Woods, respectively. I think Demetri actually has the most interesting storyline, insofar as it deals directly with The Big Question underlying the premise of the show: to wit, fate vs. free will. And I loved Janis' big boxy eyeglasses from the start; last week's hot-lesbian reveal was just icing on the cake. So to speak. Um, let's stop this metaphor before it goes off the tracks.

As for story, I think I know where it's going, and I'm thinking I'll get more enjoyment out of reading the TWOP recaps. When you're dealing with a global phenomenon, the choice of which story you tell says a lot about what you want to say. Choosing to focus on the law enforcement team investigating the cause of the flashforward instead of the team of scientists who were reponsible for it (as the original novel did) fundamentally changes the nature of the story, even more than the rejiggering of the premise itself: in the novel, the flashforward gave people visions of their lives 21 years in the future; in the TV series, the jump is only six months.

In typical Robert J. Sawyer fashion, the novel deals with a lot of science, and there's some interesting discussion of quantum mechanics and philosophy. The most amusing parts of the novel deal with Sawyer's predictions for 2009, as written in 1999; in the novel, eyeglasses are rare because laser keratotomy has been perfected, but everyone still uses VCRs and videotape. Also, it's no longer fashionable to wear blue jeans; denim dyed other colors is in. (Like Cory Doctorow says: "Science fiction writers don’t predict the future (except accidentally).")

The TV series, so far, seems to enjoy being different things at different times; it's veered from family drama to police procedural to techno-thriller to medical mystery to West Wing knock-off. Maybe that was part of the plan from the start, but the FBI investigation is the only continuous thread, and that hasn't really been ringing my bell.

Maybe V will be better, but I'm not holding my breath.