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Quick Adjustments

Quick update to the blog, after futzing around trying to coax as much speed as possible out of the site, I’ve ended up back with the Author theme from CompleteThemes. Just kidding! I was using it but this Wilson theme from
Anders Norén is amazing! It’s remarkably fast, easy on the eyes, and puts my content front and center. This isn’t a plug, it’s just an expression of how much I appreciate well-crafted, free themes that prioritize content over useless bells and whistles.

Half A Million

Completing NaNoWriMo this year started me thinking “Could I keep up that pace for a year?” I don’t mean writing a novel a month; it’s a common thing for writers to do 50K in a month while writing a book. And I don’t mean the standard “write fast, first drafts are garbage anyway, clean up for years later” approach.

Fifty-thousand words a month. What if those were fifty-thousand usable words? Words that represent short stories being sent out for publication (the chance to be published, at least). Words that represent blog posts, right here. Not tweets, not texts, not emails. Words fit for human consumption. Words chosen, hand typed! for their impact, for specific audiences.

Applied to a year, that’s 600,000 words. That’s just under two words to the mythical million words to put in to really hone the craft of writing. And in half the time Ray Bradbury said it would take!

I’m not saying it’s just a number of words to really find your voice as a writer, any more than Bradbury was saying it’s always going to take 3 years, no more no less, to become a writer. But these are words that get sent out immediately. Blogs get published. Short stories completed and submitted. There’s going to be feedback aplenty.

It works out to 1374 words a day, give or take, and roughly 9618 words a week. Figure a 5000 word short story, or somewhere in there, and seven (!) 660 word posts. Maybe some are more, maybe some are less. It’d be easier (ha!) to throw in working on a novel, to break it up and take some pressure off blogging. Also, just round it up to 1500 already.

  • 750 words a day towards a short story for the week. Then submit. Post results on the blog.
  • 500 words towards a novel. Stop at six months, start the revision process and start a new novel. Result is two 90,000+ word novels in a year.
  • 250 words a day at least on the blog. This post is just over 370 words in length. Doable

I can get 1000 to 1500 words a hour done, and I can set aside up to two hours a day, sometimes more. This is starting to look like a pretty edible elephant, all divided up like that.

Getting My House In Order

I always take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off from work. In the past, it was just to enjoy a nice holiday break, but for the last two years, I’ve been treating the week as preparation for the coming year. The general steps I take are:

  • Updating my passwords in my password database; I use KeePass. And yes, this means my global password changes. And the key file. Everything gets updated.
  • Purge, delete and close any online accounts I no longer use. Last year, this included things like my Google account, a handful of online games, and some forums I no longer visit. These accounts get burned to the ground, no recovery possible.
  • Take unused or unneeded items, including clothes and books, to Goodwill. This year I’m changing it up, attempting to sell some items on eBay. I have a scale and everything.
  • Schedule annual physical and dentist appointments. Maintain that healthy glow!
  • Check for any incomplete goals on my goal tracker, either complete them or end them. This one runs right into the final task:
  • Set new goals for the following year. Some are daily goals, others are monthly, quarterly, or have set end times in the year (generally either March 31 or September 30, just personal preference).

Starting in the next few days I’ll be going into more detail on these steps. This includes a postmortem, or a nicer term would be using a SWOT analysis, on the past year. This helps in crafting those new 2019 goals.

Plus, if I post the goals here, it’s another incentive to step it up and crush it in 2019.

Giving Up To Move Up

Doing NaNoWriMo this year, and winning, required me to make changes in my leisure time. Goodbye Netflix binges. Goodbye web trawling. Goodbye video games. Goodbye gaming in general.

I knew it would be hard, giving up what I’d consider my hobbies up to this point, but I needed to make room. I didn’t know how long I needed to write every day to hit my goals. I didn’t need extra distractions. And I knew there were demands on my time – demands I like, by the way – that could not be cut down. Wife, kids, work, home maintenance, dog, self-care.

What I didn’t know is how easy it would be to stay away. I’ve no had over a month of not watching TV. Or, at least, not watching hours of TV. I ended my Traveller RPG game in October, and with a small exception of getting an RPG idea out of my head on Twitter, I haven’ t thought about rolling dice for 30 days. I don’t have GoG Galaxy or Steam on my computer.

I don’t have a GoG or Steam account anymore, actually. Ditching video games was the easiest step, as there’s nothing new I want to play and nothing I’ve played I needed to revisit. That also helped in avoiding Netflix temptations. Nothing new grabbing at me, nothing old I want to re-watch. I’m at a point where re-watching a show I liked doesn’t increase my enjoyment of it. Maybe there’s new little things to pick up, but it’s a regression to the mean experience. It’s never going to be as good the second, third, twentieth time. I’ve accepted this, after going through the previous four stages of hobby-death grief.

Essentially, I repurposed over 20 hours of each week by shuffling hobbies. I increased my average steps per day from just under 7K to over 13K. I’m getting better sleep, since I’m not staying up watching movies or gaming. Not gaming has also saved me money. And the kicker is winning NaNoWriMo, gaining the knowledge I can complete a project, that I can write daily, and that I can maintain a daily writing habit of over 1500 words, generally in about an hour.

I’m not saying that I’ll never end up gaming again, or that movies and TV are massive, evil time-sinks. But for now, it’s good to have those particular monkeys off my back. Makes it easier to handle carrying all these new fledgling monkeys.

From Nanowrimo – On Jump Travel

Note: The section below was written for NaNoWriMo 2018, giving some background on the jump drive technology being used in-universe. I started with the effects I wanted (jump points, jump drive used as radiator, purpose for having smaller ships, efficiency breakdowns at larger sizes) and then worked backwards from there. Just like I learned at Atomic Rockets!

Jump Rails

The jump rail has to be cold to initiate a jump. Smaller ships have correspondingly smaller rails, which cannot accept as much heat, and therefore can make only shorter jumps. The rail size has more to do with volume than mass; jumping a blimp, for example, would require a larger rail than a teaspoon of lead. There is an upper limit, based on current technology. A rail over a certain size creates so much background heat as to make it useless for a jump, while adding two rails to a ship cannot correctly synchronize and generally produces a ship whose halves jump separately.

Enterprising technicians discovered the rail could be used as a giant heat sump when not being used for transition to jump space, or in jump space. This gives larger ships an advantage in combat, allowing them to have a larger throw weight of beam weapons, coilguns or rail-launched missiles. However, if used as a heat sump, the ship cannot perform a jump until that heat has dissipated. This also means that ships who have just emerged from jump are at a disadvantage, as the rail has yet to cool from the trip to jump space. Ways of rapidly cooling a jump rail are expensive, and thus used only by military vessels, well-off mercs, and specialty courier ships. A handful of merchant ships have used these “cool shots” to gain comparative advantage against competitors, but unless the route is particularly lucrative, or the route can only be assigned to one company, this is an extravagant waste of money.

The smaller the jump rail, the shorter the jump taken, unless the commander and crew want to risk jump failure. Generally speaking, it’s controlled by the length of the rail, which is set by the volume of the ship. A 2 meter rail, the shortest possible under current technological conditions, allows for a 6 light year jump. The jump will take 12 hours, a ratio of 2 light years: 1 hour. A 64 meter rail, the largest ever constructed (currently undergoing trials in the Remus system) only allows for a jump of 36 light years, and a 1:3 ratio for light-year/hour. Both would cool down for another jump in 72 hours, excepting for combat or using an active coolant system. The larger rail still holds an advantage if one needed to go 36 light years, but breaks down near the 24 light year mark.
Custom dictates ships enter at a point perpendicular to the plane of the system, and pass through zenith to nadir or vice versa, allowing their rails to cool. An extremely talented astrogator, or a thrill seeker, might jump into the plane, having calculated the position of whatever planet or station pre-jump. The issue here is that the emerging ship appears in a given volume of space but where inside that volume is not up to the astrogator or pilot, strictly speaking.

Courier ships use both active cooling and flushing the rail compartment with coolant. This is a hazardous material that, after cooling the rail, can be stored, cooled and reused. An average courier could jump, cool and jump again in a matter of hours. The record is held by Zig “Stardust” Jant, having jump and rejumped in 38.3 minutes. However, as her ship, the “Odessa” was a victim of jump failure on the second jump, some sources dispute the record. The record without jump failure is held by the courier Malediction, at 44.8 minutes and a total of 24 light years in 48.8 hours.

Writing takes practice. The only way to get more comfortable and more efficient art writing is to write more.
So get started.

Steven Sinofsky

NaNoWriMo 2018

It’s less than 48 hours to go before the start of NaNoWriMo 2018, and my dedicated push this year to write daily with a focus on fiction. I already have my daily(-ish) writing habit established, and at the moment I average around 900 words a day. That’s a little more than half the daily (not -ish) wordcount needed to complete NaNoWriMo. Plus, I already know of 3 days where no writing will get done, so there’s a need to plan ahead this time.

When I say “This time” it’s because I have attempted NaNoWriMo – and the seemingly-defunct NaGaDeMon, where you design, test and play a game in a month – many times in the past. By “attempted” you can already guess that means I have failed. Repeatedly. Generally, it comes down to a lack of planning  and a lack of belief in what I’m doing. This year I’ve short-circuited those by both having a plan and by realigning my beliefs.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

As part of my 104 book GoodReads challenge this year, I read a number of books on writing. In addition to the primary advice of Just Write, more than a few added two more ideas that stuck with me.

  1. Know what you’re going to write
  2. Know how long you’re going to write

Trust me, I’m aware of the Planner vs Pantser debate, and whether or not you can even begin to assign a one-size-fits-all amount of advice beyond Just Write to any unique group like writers. But knowing what you’re going to write doesn’t require a full outline, or even more than a sentence. And as I’m already using the Pomodoro method at work, it was simple enough to use it for writing. Already I’ve seen a change in both word count and in the focus that gives to my ideas.

For overall planning, I’ve started using the Snowflake Method, and it has been a game changer in terms of both my excitement in writing, and in my ability to see where I’ve had issues in the past with plot and characters.

I Am A Writer

This has lit a fire in me for writing that I haven’t experienced since  the shadows of my youth. I look forward to sitting down and getting started, even if I’m not excited by the blank page/screen. But I’m not afraid of the blanks now. My beliefs have shifted from “Maybe I can write something, I guess I’ll try, it probably won’t be good” to “I will write, if it’s not good, so what? I’ll write again tomorrow!” I’ve gone from falling apart if a page or section isn’t working to just setting it aside for the time being and moving on. I’ve stopped seeing everything at eye-level, and with a plan in my pocket I can have that 30,000 foot view to see how it all connects, and not get hung up on a paragraph or sentence here or page there.

Chomping At The Bit

Now, there’s still some trepidation about November 1. It’s still embarking on a massive undertaking, in addition to all the other work, tasks and obligations that November brings my way. But, damn! I’m ready to go now.

In the end, I’ll just burn with patience until I flip that calendar to the next page, set my timer, review my plan, and write.

Familial Obligations

“I’d have thought the crew would be bigger,” she said. They were coming up to the galley. “Normally, spacers travel with their families aboard.” Bix’s tone made it clear this wasn’t just a conjecture or question on her part. This was a matter-of-fact statement.

Li laughed. “Hell, that’s merchies. Ain’t us, boss.” He keyed open the galley latch, stepped through and went to the coffee maker. “We’re mercs. No place for a family on a warship.”

Selina handed Bix a cup of coffee before dropping four sugar cubes into her own. “It’s rare to find the right mix of specialties without any family ties, given how well you all work together,” Bix said. She cradled the cup in both hands, She always felt cold when shipboard.

“No, the crew all have families.” Selina sipped her coffee. “Big Chance has a wife and other kid back on Washukanni, and Little Chance sends his money home too. Lissa’s got a wife and…twins? I think,” she looked at Li, who shook his head. “Quads. Punching uni tickets, last I asked. Big costs.”

Selina nodded. “Right, quads. Grey’s single still, but it’s a big culture thing on Beralen to tithe back into your local fire temple, so there’s his tie back. And Li here,” she said, punching his arm with a slight bit more force than what would be playful. “He’s supporting an ex-wife and ex-husband on some gods-awful freecan in the Ur El-Fi.”

Li grimaced. “Former, not ex. Just back pay on 36 month contracts, you know that. You don’t call our former clients ex-clients, do you?”

Selina grinned, cockeyed. “Only if they sell us out. ”

Bix set her cup down, masking her annoyance with mechanical action. being corrected not once but twice; why should it bother her so much that she didn’t know the ends and outs of some spacer – no, merc – crew’s private lives? Was she really expected to glean all this from brief encounters and snippets of conversation?

Of course she was. She knew that. Caldonian training let her analysis scraps of data at lightspeed. Her own natural ability saw to her extrapolations being correct with 95% certainty. But these bloody…sophonts! She did a quick read of Selina, still laughing with Li.

“But not you, Commander.” Again, no question in her tone. Certainty. “All your family is onboard.” She looked into Selina’s narrowed eyes, her soul. “This crew is your family, no one planet or station side to connect with.”

Selina replied, tight lipped. “Just the crew, and the rats,” her voice just above a whisper.

“Well, and you now, boss,” Li said, clinking his mug against Bix’s cup. “You on board now, we take care of you like family.” He laughed, “at least, until you’re ‘former’, eh?”

Even if I wanted one, this is not my family. Bix kept her eyes on Selina. I am Caldonian. I have no family.

On Reading

To get this out of the way – I’m dyslexic. I’m also a voracious reader. This year I’m on track to read 52 books and listen to 52 audiobooks. Obviously reading, becoming engrossed in a story, expanding my brain with new ideas and old histories is important to me. But why do I pursue this as a hobby if my dyslexia makes it so difficult?


That’s a Latin phrase meaning “sweeter after difficulties”, which also serves as the motto of the Scottish clan Fergusson. It also serves as the reason I read so much , or at least try to read as much as I can. Over so many years of reading, I’ve come up with a number of tricks and techniques to read quickly and retain what I’ve read. Below I’m going to share three of them, probably the three most important ones I’ve discovered.

What isn’t included in this list is any technical help. I don’t have a font that helps me – although Open Dyslexic is nice, it’s not my go to on the Kindle. But I know it has helped many other dyslexics in my family to find reading more enjoyable. I don’t have blinkers or blinders to focus my eyes, or use a ruler or any other speed reading tactics. The list is more of three stances I take in regards to reading, and locking the information in my brain.

I Don’t Have A Comfort Zone (Anymore)

Back when I was a scraggly 90s teenager, I read primarily licensed fiction. Star Wars and Star Trek, BattleTech and Forgotten Realms. If it resided at the end of the science fiction shelves in Barnes and Noble or organized by series number rather than author at Powell’s, I read it. Interspersed were a few other works of fiction (Forrester, Chandler, Steinbeck) and the Big Three of Science Fiction (Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein) with some Ray Bradbury tacked on.

Have you noticed that most of that list is scifi and fantasy?

This changed in college, due to an economic downturn and the local (to me) Tower Books going out of business. I had money burning a hole in my pocket, and here was a store full of 75-90% off sales. Why not try something new? For the first time I was reading biographies, Non-European or American histories, self-help and exercise guides, business books and natural science. I was introduced to poetry of John Dunn and my favorite poet of all time, Koon Woon.

Since then I’ve dropped licensed fiction, kept up with science fiction, and tried to read as far and wide as possible. This year I’ve read some personal development and self-help, naval histories and true crime, classic fiction and brand new bestsellers. Having that range of voices, experiences and backgrounds to refresh my brain is a joy.

I Don’t Waste My Time

If someone were to look at my Goodreads shelves, they’d see a pyramid of reviews. 3 stars on the bottom, a middle layer of 4 star books, and the pinnacle 5 stars, the books I’d recommend to anyone at any time. What wouldn’t be seen are the 2 and 1 star book reviews. Because I don’t finish those books. Why would I? It’s a waste of time.

Within the first hour of an audiobook or first 20 pages of a physical or ebook, I know whether or not it is worth finishing. Worth Finishing, I’ll note, is subjective. It’s not a value judgement on the author, usually, but a value judgement on what their words say to me. I spare them the “horror” of the 1 or 2 star review, and spare others hearing me bitch about reading a book I don’t enjoy.

Life is short, there’s billions of books to read, there’s no reason to spend more time on a book when you don’t like the characters, voice, style, content or theme. So I don’t waste my time.

I Don’t Stay Silent

My poor wife. All she wants to do is get ready for bed, or read to the kids, or edit photos, or just have a relaxing dinner out. And hear I come with scads of notes from the latest books I’m reading, ready to share.

It’s exasperating. “It’s 2am! Why are you telling me this now?” she asks, soothing a twin.

“Because I just read it! I don’t want to forget,” I say, feeding the other twin.

Honestly, that’s on me. I need to work on my timing. If it’s interesting and not a massive interruption, she’s a great and engaged audience.

If I read something that’s interesting, insightful or just triggers a thought progression in me, I have to share. There’s been times I’ve taken over Thanksgiving meals or family dinners to relate points about radio during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, or A.B. Guthrie’s prose, or wine counterfeiting. Hey, it beats complaining about who cut me off in traffic today. These are books that have energized me, and I want to share that energy like a runaway nuclear plant. It’s that teaching part of my brain, it engages more with a subject every time I share it with someone.

So now, to spare my wife, I’ll be sharing a lot of bits with you all, the readers of this blog. You’re welcome! and also Thank you!

Get Out There

Those are my three methods of staying engaged while reading and locking in what I’ve read. You can see, it’s not a trick or series of exercises or a gadget that helps the most, it’s actively sharing the interesting books I read from a wide range of subjects. I expand my knowledge base outward and upward, and avoid books not worth my time. Give these techniques a try and see if you end up reading and retaining more!

On Looking to the Past

As a gear up for NaNoWriMo this year, I’m looking at the past to seed ideas for the future.

My interests in science fiction have usually ran to space opera. There’s enjoyment to be had in cyberpunk or more transhumanist tales, or even in just classic, near-future type stories. But my heart belongs to rockets and starships and thousands of worlds and tramp freighters and mighty fleets. C-beams off the Tannhauser Gate and all that.

Further Reading

Of course, if you’re looking at writing anything remotely realistic in science fiction – and space opera can be realistic, to a point – you will find yourself drawn to Atomic Rockets, Winchell Chung’s amazing reference site for realistic rockets to space warfare to future money to remembering to respect science. There’s a few sections primarily for authors which pull out the idea of looking to the past to find ideas and story seeds for science fiction. The biggest one on the site is regarding Faster Than Light communication, referencing the birth of the telegraph and the wonderful book The Victorian Internet. That section got me thinking on avoiding the super common Navy In Space and Free Market Capitalism In Space tropes for space opera. The trick is to be close to original when presenting vastly different expectations while not coming across as preachy.

Let’s Call It A Spacy

In terms of Space Navy, I was leaning toward Space Force, but that’s A. becoming an actual thing and B. becoming a massive joke. The other direction is to just refer to the Fleet, and the various branches: Guard, Patrol, Scout, espatier, gropo. It’s just askew enough to work. Battles would be one on one or small unit, due to other considerations, and resemble more galley warfare or naval conflicts of the Imjin War than Jutland or Leyte Gulf. That’s the framework; it will inevitably be either more 3D in nature (lots of maneuver) or 1D (range uber alles, strategic maneuver over tactical positioning).

Economics and Government

For economics and trade, my interest has been sparked by the idea of Minoan palace economies writ large – think planetary center economy. Wealth goes into Earth, say, and then back out to Mars, the belt, Jupiter. I like this for not being a typical model while also being fraught with issues, downsides and peril, ripe for stories and conflict. Combine that with a interstellar polity, and that led me to the madala system from Southeast Asia, with complex webs of tributary agreements and zones of control.

Already I have some worldbuilding done, just by combining those two ideas. Here’s the Fleet, an organization that can’t be everywhere at once in force, maintaining control and exchange of “gifts” and tribute from client states. Would the fleet be involved between a war of two clients? Is there another polity willing to exploit the thin-ness of Fleet coverage in these ares? Something, maybe, like a Sea Peoples (Space Peoples?) invading systems, spreading panic that this polity of worlds just can’t live up to the vassal/lord arrangement anymore?

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