Kicking off NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMoThis afternoon, Laura and I attended the NaNoWriMo Cleveland-area kickoff party. Twenty-six people gathered in a meeting room at the Beachwood branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, including a reporter[1] from WCPN and couple of groupies supporters who came out to cheer on their favorite aspiring novelists.

Christine, our municipal liaison (she’s running the show, folks), gave everybody a little pep talk, introductions were made, and then the room was abuzz with chatter about the upcoming adventure in marathon writing. Story ideas were traded, as were tips on maintaining momentum, finding inspiration, and recovering sanity once December rolls around. Punch, cider, cookies, crackers and cheese curls were consumed.

Throughout the month of November, we will gather on Thursdays and Saturdays to socialize, encourage one another, and participate in timed “sprints” to see how many words we can bang out in ten or twenty minutes. We will also make use of the forums at the official NaNoWriMo website to brag about goals met, lament goals missed, and just to blow off steam.[2]

Chris Miller is doing a series of podcasts about NaNoWriMo and the Cleveland-area participants throughout November. The first episode in the series — which features interviews recorded at a gathering earlier this month, a snippet from NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty[3] and an essay from a Virginia NaNite[4] — was published yesterday.

Chris was unable to attend today’s event due to skewed priorities a previous commitment, so I volunteered to be his field correspondent. Foolishly, he accepted[5]. I interviewed[6] a handful of people, some new to NaNo, some who are returning to take another whack at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Some have their stories outlined and characters created while others have only the seed of an idea that they will nurture into full blossom over the next month[7]. All were upbeat, excited, and anxious to begin.

Tomorrow is the last day to prepare. Once the trick-or-treaters are all at home with their candy hordes, the sounding of the midnight bell will signal the start of National Novel Writing Month, and the mad dash will commence. Sixteen hundred sixty-seven words a day. Eleven thousand six hundred sixty-nine words a week. Fifty thousand words before the bell tolls to signal the start of December and the end of our novels.

Now all I need is an idea.

[1] His name: Daniel Moulthrop. His voice recorder: Sony MiniDisc

[2] I bought Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! last year and dutifully read the prescribed chapters. Perhaps if I’d actually paid attention to his advice I might have made it past 20,000 words.

[3] When I first attempted NaNoWriMo back in 2003, I don’t think I even managed 5,000 words. I was flying completely solo that year; I didn’t participate in the on-line forum or attend any of the meetings. I think making myself a part of the community in 2004 helped keep me going as long as I did, and I hope I’ll be able to continue the positive trend this year.

[4] I’m pretty sure the preferred term is “NaNoers,” but that looks weird when I type it.

[5] Hey, the guy only just met me. Cut him a little slack. He’ll learn.

[6] Laura listened to the interviews after the party. “For an interviewer,” she said, “you talk too much.” I’ll try to do better on Thursday.

[7] I’m in the latter crowd. Actually, to continue the analogy, I’m the guy who has no tiller, seeds or topsoil, but is pretty sure he’d like fresh corn come autumn.

Am I on Candid Camera?

One of the main reasons I enjoy using Mozilla Firefox (and before that Opera and Avant Browser) is the MDI: it keeps my Windows taskbar relatively clutter-free.

At work, Internet Explorer 6 is the only approved browser, so the taskbar can get a little cluttered sometimes. When I glanced up (yes, I dock the taskbar at the top of the screen) just now, I saw this:

Am I on Candid Camera?

Granted, there were about six other applications/instances open at the same time, but these four were at the far right and the next one over on the left wasn’t an IE window, so they caught my eye right away.

Weekend (+1)

Saturday was the Hallowe’en party at Laura’s church. Laura was a jack-o-lantern and I (grabbing my orange t-shirt at the last minute) was the pumpkin prior to carving. I was also a member of the Costume Judging Tribunal, which awarded medals for the top three costumes in four age groups. The pastor attended dressed as the grim reaper, which was certainly interesting.

Afterward, I watched three episodes of Nightstalker and the most recent episode of Threshold. I was totally hoodwinked by the ads for Threshhold, by the way. I was certain that Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage) would be killed off (which would have been a travesty), but the network’s claim that one of the team members would die was a total bait and switch. A good thing, too. If Dinklage had left the show, the only interesting character left would be Nigel Fenway (Brent Spiner); the rest of the Threshold team is pretty damn boring.

Sunday afternoon we had lunch with Laura’s parents at Cici’s, a pizza buffet place. The pizza was decent, though certainly not exciting. Dessert was fairly yummy, though. Laura’s dad looks pretty good for a guy who had his chest cracked open two weeks ago.

After lunch Sam Fisher and I put the hurt on some palace guards and “removed” one Kombayn Nikoladze, a not-nice Georgian fellow who intended to detonate a suitcase nuke in the U.S. That’s right, Splinter Cell is complete. The cats were not at all pleased when I celebrated by listening to the theme song at a high volume (“Listen all you mother-“). Their ears went so far back that they looked like they were running really, really fast.

So what’s a boy to do after finally beating Splinter Cell? Why, get to work on Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, of course. Sam cannot rest, for there’s trouble afoot in East Timor.

I took the day off yesterday because my sinuses weren’t happy. To top it off, I had a sore throat and some sort of weird ear thing that made me dizzy every time I stood up. I’m mostly better now, though.

I took advantage of my down-time to watch Path of Destruction, starring Danika McKellar (formerly of TV’s The Wonder Years). Let me say this: that movie isn’t worth staying home from work to watch.

Internet Explorer can [censored] my [censored].

Seriously.

I spent two hours last night poring over the WordPress template files and the stylesheet for the theme I’m building, searching for some error that would explain why IE was rendering the page improperly.

Exhibit A (Firefox):
Exhibit A - Firefox

Exhibit B (Internet Exploder):
Exhibit B - Suck it, IE

See that grey border on the right? It’s supposed to be a solid line from top to bottom, but IE was pushing it to the right partway down, and rendering it twice at the bottom of the page.

After much frustration, I realized that there must be something “special” about the content of one or more entries on the page. Through trial and error, I managed to isolate the problem to a single entry: a movie review for Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. I tried removing any unusual formatting (image float, footnotes) without success. Finally, after hacking the entry to pieces, I removed a couple of lines where italic text wrapped from one line to the next. Voila, no more rendering problem. It didn’t make any sense, but there it was: italics.

So I searched for “internet explorer italics bug” in Google and I came up with this entry at PositionIsEverything.net. Seems IE doesn’t respect element sizing very consistently. The author provides several good examples as well as a couple of ways to work around the problem. I tried the “overflow: visible” method, which seemed to work until I put the rest of the contect back in the entry, at which point the entire middle section of the page got bumped down below the sidebars in IE (but not in Firefox).

This morning, I set the width of the rogue element to 95% and voila… all better. Well, except for a little “extra” padding on the right, but that doesn’t actually affect the rendering of the border.

I’m not finished working on the new theme, but this particular bug as been fixed. IE can still [censored] my [censored].

NaNoWriMo Progress Bar

I saw that Codeshaman has added a NaNoWriMo progress bar to his blog and I liked the idea so much that I swiped it. I have no idea what the mechanics of his bar might be, but the code behind mine will do the following:

  • Prior to 1 November, display a countdown to 1 November. Note that I didn’t account for the time difference between Willoughby and my server location (Chicago), so it’ll be an hour off.
  • Beginning on 1 November, display a progress bar and a daily target line. The progress bar visually represents the percentage of completion, while the target line displays the ideal word count based on writing 1,667 words per day. Target word count is also displayed numerically beneath the progress bar.
  • Upon reaching the overall target word count (50,000), remove the daily target line (and corresponding target word count) and display a message indicating completion.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll be the first to admit that this little widget is extremely kludgy. Most of the CSS that makes it work feels like a big, fat, inelegant cheat.

Oh, and of course it doesn’t look quite right when viewed with Internet Explorer. The real kicker is Opera. The version I’ve got (7.0, which I paid for) shifts the whole blasted sidebar about 500 pixels to the right, way off into Never-Neverland. Maybe I should download the latest version. I hear there’s no advertising on the free version these days.

Supertramp: Original Playa

Supertramp - Breakfast in America (CD)A couple of weeks ago I was listening to KJToonz in the MvOD and Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” queued up on the playlist. It’s a song that I’d probably heard a hundred times, recognized instantly, could hum the melody and sing along with the chorus… and had never actually listened to. Certain snippets of the lyrics (“Like a ship without an anchor, like a slave without a chain…”) stuck in my head, but I didn’t attach any real meaning to them. To me, it was just a guy saying goodbye to a couple of women:

Goodbye stranger, it’s been nice,
hope you find your paradise.

Goodbye Mary. Goodbye Jane,
will we ever meet again?

For whatever reason, I processed the song differently that night, and it was like hearing it for the first time. Underneath that familiar and—dare I say—beloved melody Roger Hodgson was telling a story that I’d never really heard before. Roger Hodgson was telling the story of a stone cold playa: the early morning lover who must be movin’ on.

The snippets of lyrics I knew so well were immediately followed by the shocking truth:

Just the thought of those sweet ladies
sends a shiver through my veins

I’ve been listening to Supertramp since I was six! How could I possibly go twenty-six years without realizing that “Goodbye Stranger” is about the king of one-night stands? It’s enough to make one question everything.

Actually, I think the key is that I have been familiar with the song for so long. When I was six years old, I hadn’t the faintest idea why Hodgson would be saying goodbye to Mary and Jane, much less what a one-night stand was. Yet I heard the song enough times (thanks to my older brothers and the wonders of vinyl) that the whole of it became imprinted in my memory and it never occurred to me during the intervening years to apply my expanded knowledge of the world to a song I’d been listening to since I was six.

Now that I’m done having my epiphany I have to go figure out what the hell “Lord is it Mine” is about.

Not again, Jar-Jar!

It wasn’t that long ago that I noted the time required to download 1 gigabyte of data over a slow (34.6 – 37.4 kbs) dial up connection. That gigabyte of data was the City of Heroes test server, and I downloaded it so I could participate in the City of Villains beta.

The City of Villains client was a second, even larger download. The 1.6 gigabyte update converted the City of Heroes test server to the CoV beta client. This made for roughly ten days of almost non-stop downloading. I was able to fire up City of Villains for the first time Friday evening, just in time for the developer to open the floodgates and allow anyone and his brother in for the weekend. The server was slammed; public areas were incredibly laggy (even for folks with broadband connections). Still, I was able to create three villains over the weekend: Retikion, Thunderhead and The Skink. They are all bad, bad men, ((The Skink is technically not a “man” (or a woman, for that matter), but rather the result of an attempt to recreate plant-like photosynthesis in reptiles utilizing an experimental (and illegal) DNA manipulation technique. Of course, that’s neither here nor there.)) consorting with criminals, engaging in illicit activities and probably suffering from severe halitosis. ((As a result of the aforementioned experiments, The Skink doesn’t actually have a mouth. Hence, The Skink does not have halitosis. Retikion, on the other hand, does have a mouth. Unfortunately, dental hygiene is low on his list of priorities (building a thriving criminal enterprise is #1 on that list), so not only does Retikion have halitosis, he also has advanced gum disease.))

Last night, I returned to more heroic pursuits, teaming up with Miscellaneous G™, Slowhand and five complete strangers in an attempt to rescue the kidnapped son of one Lt. David Wincott. Despite a thoroughly valiant effort, we were ultimately thwarted by a misbehaving server. With five minutes remaining in the mission, the team was making a final push past legions of animated rock creatures and dark mystics when the unthinkable happened: the server vomited the entire team back to the login prompt. Though we were all able to log back in immediately, our heroes had been transported out of the main mission area and watched helplessly as the mission timer ticked down to zero. Failure. Young Sam Wincott would have to suffer at the hands of the Circle of Thorns until another group of stalwart heroes rescues him from their clutches.

Tonight, I took Dr. Garabiton out on patrol. The Gravitas Mark IV battlesuit ((The Gravitas Mark IV battlesuit features a variety of “comfort options,” including an integrated 60GB iPod and Bose noise-canceling headphones with state-of-the-art automatic CoMPVoC technology.)) had been collecting dust in a secret storage closet recently while its creator, theoretical physicist Patrick Nguyen, explored other interests. Sadly, his romantic endeavors ended rather disastrously last night, so he decided that he needed to blow off some steam. After re-calibrating the Mark IV’s graviton manipulator arrays, Patrick donned the yellow and blue armor and took to the streets as Dr. Garabiton.

Fortunately for Patrick, there is no shortage of illegal activity in Paragon City, and he soon found himself hip-deep in criminals. Though he has never met Maxwell “Cardelion” Barstow, tonight Patrick learned the lesson that Max knows so very well: beating up bad guys is great therapy. When you’re angry at the world (or even just at Susan Kendrick), there’s nothing more cathartic than kicking the crap out of someone who truly deserves it.

After letting Dr. Garabiton work out some of his frustrations, I decided to call it a night and shut down City of Heroes. Instead of simply closing, however, the CoH updater began downloading “Issue 6,” a new upgrade that will fix bugs and add content to the game.

The patch file for Issue 6 is a whopping 1.6 gigabytes.

Oh, goody.

Or, if you prefer: for the love of Kelly Ripa’s immaculate part.

As an expectant father with what some have described as an “irreverent sense of humor,” I found Monday’s Penny Arcade ridiculously funny. Now, before you go clicking on that link all willy-nilly, let me first warn you that this particular installment of Penny Arcade might be regarded by some as tasteless and offensive. I don’t want to reveal too much for fear of ruining the joke for those who do opt to read it, but I will say this: it involves the placenta. If the mere mention of that word makes you cringe then for the love of Regis Philbin’s bushy eyebrows do not click that link.

[EDIT: It occurs to me that there is more than one way to interpret “Kelly Ripa’s immaculate part.” I would like to clarify that I am referring to the part in her hair.

Pervs.]