How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 30

And there it is, the result of thirty days of not shaving. Impressive, it ain’t, but I wasn’t expecting it to be and that’s why the name of the event is “How Not To Grow a Beard Month”. Whether I make this an annual event or not really depends on whether I’m able to get the damn thing off tomorrow.

To recap:

HoNoToGroABeMo: Success!
NaBloPoMo: Success!
NaNoWriMo: Dismal failure!

I’ll gloat about those first two and let Rob handle the gloating on the third.

Tomorrow there will be one final blog post from me and then the pixels go dark until 2008. As Chris Miller has already hinted, you can expect a new podcast from us sometime in January.

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 29

I think I’m about ready for November to be over. The closer December gets, the more I’m looking forward to thirty days of shaving every morning, not blogging every day, and not being reminded that my word count never broke 10,000.

This month got off to a very promising start and was quickly consumed by a giant, steaming pile of suck. I don’t relish the idea of turning KJToo.com into my personal bitch-and-moanfest (ranting, however, is perfectly acceptable and even expected) but apart from the occasional bright spot here and there (Con on the Cob, Thanksgiving, Game Night) November sucked some very unpleasant balls.

There is absolutely no rational reason that I should expect things to magically improve because a new month begins, but that’s exactly what is going to happen. The first of December will arrive, the clouds will roll back, the sun will shine, and there will be a whole bunch of other happy metaphoric stuff going on, too. Just you wait and see.

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 28

Only a few more days of silly beard pictures and it’ll all be over…or will it? The beard is definitely coming off in December, but I think I’m going to have some fun with it first. Stay tuned for ever-increasing levels of foolishness.

In non-beard-related news, I’ve started packing up my stuff at work. Swarthy men wearing swarthy shoes will transport boxes of my stuff from the building in which I currently work to the building in which I’ll be working starting on Monday. The new place is closer to home, but I’ve heard there are random alligator attacks in the parking lot and that bands of gnomes steal the toilet paper out of the third floor men’s room. Since I’m going to be working on the first floor, the gnomes don’t really concern me. On the other hand, I’m horribly allergic to alligators. One bite and I start bleeding all over the place; it isn’t pretty.

Writing: PlotStorming.com

After learning about PlotStorming.com at Con on the Cob, I decided to give the creative writing community a shot and signed up for a free account.

PlotStorming is, at its heart, a Simple Machines Forum (much like the one installed here at KJToo.com) where users can talk about various aspects of creative writing, bounce ideas off one another, submit works for critique, and even have special, private forums created for the purpose of collaborating on writing projects.

One of the cool things the moderators do is post a short creative writing prompt every day. The site generally leans toward the fantasy genre, so the prompts tend to involve a variety of fantasy elements. They’re short (usually just a few sentences) snippets designed to give the imagination a little kick-start and PlotStormers can post the results of that creative boost.

Here’s the prompt from 13 November 2007:

The first tongues of lightning lashed out from the front of the roiling cloud bank and the shields glowed indigo-azure in response. Brahm smiled. “It’ll hold.”

Cain couldn’t move his gaze from the artificial twilight as it spread with the storm until it engulfed the whole city. “I’d hold my tongue, Brahm. We haven’t seen the brunt of his wrath yet – we are dealing with a god.”

The prompt worked exactly as intended, and yesterday I sat down for about 30 minutes and wrote this:

Brahm looked at his younger brother. “Aye,” he acknowledged, nodding, “a god, indeed. But just the one this time.”

“The prophecy-” Cain began, but his brother interrupted.

“The prophecy was written ten thousand years ago,” Brahm said, “in a long-dead language. It’s been translated and re-translated so many times that its original meaning is as dead as the prophet who wrote it.”

Brahm started across the square, the cobblestones beneath his boots glowing faintly purple in the light of the shield high above. “Besides,” he continued, “you and I both know that prophecy is less about divination than it is about interpretation.”

Cain frowned, falling into step beside his elder sibling. “That’s no excuse for over-confidence,” he said. “It’s been nearly a hundred years since the Siege of the Ancients; the shield-weavers are-”

Brahm interrupted again. “-old men, yes. I know, I know.”

The brothers paused as they came to the monument at the center of the square, both men dropping to one knee in reverence to the Mother. Cain pressed his palms together and touched the sides of his index fingers to his forehead, nose and chin; a warmth radiated outward from the center of his chest as the Mother heard his silent prayer. For the space of three breaths he knelt in silence, his eyes closed, the feeling of apprehension banished–at least for the moment–by the Mother’s blessing.

Brahm and Cain rose as one, then continued across the square. The Mother’s calming influence receded as the men moved away from the monument, though the soothing warmth remained, as it would for at least an hour. Cain looked up again as a bolt of lightning cut a brilliant, jagged scar across the darkened sky and the shield glowed brighter. The thunder that followed should have been nearly deafening, but it was barely audible, most of its energy absorbed by the magical shield and channelled to the twelve shield-weavers. The more the storm raged, the stronger the shield became, but Cain was only too aware of the terrible price the weavers paid, their bodies ravaged by the mystical forces. If even one of them should die…

“They’ll be fine,” Brahm said, breaking the silence and seeming to read Cain’s thoughts. He reached his destination and pounded three times on the heavy wooden door.

Cain suddenly realized where they were. “This is-” he started.

“Yes,” Brahm said grimly. “I am confident that Alden and the other weavers can maintain the shield, but never mistake confidence for ill-preparedness, little brother. Should the shield fail, should the god breach our defenses, we will have no recourse but to fight.”

The heavy door swung inward, opening to a dimly lit room and a towering, bearded man whose naked, broad chest was criss-crossed with pale scars and whose left arm ended in a smooth stump just above the elbow. Recognition shone in his dark eyes and a cruel smile played across his lips.

“And if we must fight,” Brahm continued, “we would be foolish not to have a god-slayer fighting beside us.”

Now, I have no idea where this story is going. The whole exercise sprang from the last few words of the prompt: “we are dealing with a god.” My first reaction was “just one?” and I ran with that.

From there, my approach was simple: have the two men walk across the square and introduce a couple of interesting things along the way (the Mother, the power of prayer, the shield-weavers and finally, the god-slayer). I wasn’t thinking about backstory, I was thinking about cool; I figured if I got really interested in the story I could come up with the history later.

I’ve never really written fantasy, but I can see where it might be cool to continue. On the other hand, I’ve gotten in trouble with the “make it up as you go along” approach in the past (the very recent past).

I think I’ll do another couple of prompts over the next few days, because I can definitely see how the doors to creativity could be opened. Will anything come of it? I don’t know. I do have a bit of a penchant for not completing stories.

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 26

This series of photos, when arranged in the proper order, will undoubtedly chronicle my descent into madness as the beard—malevolent, sentient and hungry for power—grows not outward but inward, the roots of each follicle making their way inexorably toward strategic areas of my brain, intent on wresting control of my cognitive and motor functions from the hippocampus, the seat of my personality.

Even now, I can feel the vile tendrils burrowing through flesh and bone; at the edge of my conscious the susurrant song of the beard is constant and nerve-wracking. When all is quiet around me, it whispers to me, describing the foul crimes it will commit with my body.

In just a few more days, I’ll be able to shave. I hope it isn’t too late.

How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 25

I’m about to head out the door to record my final Volcanicast of 2007. The show will continue through the end of the year, but I’ll be sitting out due to contract negotiations my Month of Radio Silence, or what Chris Miller calls the Great Information Detox. Just because I won’t be co-hosting the show doesn’t mean I won’t be listening; I listen to every episode, whether I’m on it or not. ((If I’m on an episode, I listen to it twice. That’s right, I love the sound of my own voice that much.))

Today’s HoNoToGroABeMo photo is me pretty much straight out of the shower. As the end of November approaches, I’m realizing that my beard is, indeed, great…provided I’m going for that scraggly, uneven Unabomber-meets-Charles-Manson look. Yeah, I’ll be shaving it off come December unless something miraculous happens, like a blood transfusion from Sam Elliott granting me mutant beard-growing powers or perhaps being bitten by a radioactive member of ZZ Top.

Things You Did Not Need To Know (Part 01)

It would appear that NBC is bringing back American Gladiator. I know a surprising number of people who will be glad to hear this news. Will I watch it? That depends on my New Year’s resolutions.

SciFi is showing BloodRayne right now. I’ll probably watch it, but I’m not at all taken with the idea of watching the watered-down television edit. Hoo boy. “Special Appearance by Billy Zane” makes Billy Zane seem all special, doesn’t it? Then again, he did play The Phantom. That’s pretty special.

I fought the leaves in the back yard and I’m starting to think the leaves—though the bulk of them have been moved to the curb and are destined to be sucked into a truck—won. I think I’m getting sick.

Michael Madsen is in BloodRayne. Burt Reynolds is in Dungeon Siege: In The Name of the King. Uwe Boll seems to have a penchant for bizarre casting.

That’s all for now.

Thanksgiving Day 2007

Today the International House of Johnson was filled with the smells of the feast and the sounds of family celebrating together. Instead of a Thanksgiving dinner, we had a Thanksgiving lunch that filled me to the point where ten hours later I’m not even the slightest bit hungry.

The feast aside, I have plenty to be thankful for this year:

  • Laura. We’ve been married for eleven years. Sometimes it feels like eleven days, sometimes it feels like forever, but I’m thankful for everything we have.
  • Kyle, my young apprentice. Nothing in the world compares to opening the door after eight or ten hours at work and hearing him exclaim “Dada!”
  • My family. Whether we’re connected by blood or marriage, I’m glad we’re family.
  • My friends. I’m not going to single anyone out here, but I’ve got some very good friends who enrich my life. If that sounds like you, then I say, “Thank you.” If it doesn’t sound like you, don’t sell yourself short.
  • My job. I’ve been with the same company for ten and a half years and things have been a little rocky recently, but I’m thankful that I’m still able to provide for my family.
  • My health. Yeah, I could be in better shape, but that’s my own damn fault. I’m thankful that my body hasn’t just decided to up and quit on me. I should take better care of it.

HOW-TO: Not Use Feedburner Properly

Back in the spring of 1977, a couple of guys named Steve were changing the world of computers, a guy named George was changing the face of science fiction cinema, and a man named Jimmy was flexing his newfound Presidential muscle. That very same spring, ((Plus or minus thirty years.)) I created a Feedburner feed for KJToo.com.

Though I’m not obsessed with site statistics and number of subscribers to my RSS feed(s), I will admit that I was a little curious, plus Feedburner offered a couple of clever options for making the feed more friendly to various feed readers. Plus, there didn’t seem to be any downside to redirecting my existing feeds.

Fast-forward to a couple of months ago: In upgrading to WordPress 2.3.x and trying my hand at theme design, I run into problems with a couple of the plug-ins I’ve installed. After upgrading all the plugins I’m using and getting rid of a few I’m not, everything appears to be fine.

Fast-forward to a couple of hours ago: some random whim inspires me to check my Feedburner stats for the first time since George, one of the Steves and another George who has nothing to do with science fiction or personal computers went eight different kinds of crazy. Immediately, it is clear that something has gone horribly awry. Three subscribers? Just three? I’m responsible for at least two subscriptions to the main feed; surely I’ve got enough geek cred to warrant at least a handful of subscriptions from savvy Intarwebbians.

Of course I am, though my geek cred may be in some jeopardy as the twisted tale approaches its climax. It seems that in my virtual house-cleaning I had managed to deactivate and delete a very important WordPress plugin, one called Feedburner Feedsmith that handles the redirection of my default RSS feeds to Feedburner.

The upshot of all this, unless I’ve missed something, is that, for the past couple of months, Feedburner has only been counting subscribers who subscribed to the feeds generated by Feedburner (e.g., http://feeds.feedburner.com/kjtoo), because the feed published by WordPress (http://kjtoo.com/feed/) has not been properly redirected. ((This is a nice, warm, fuzzy explanation, because it means that people are subscribed to the feed and reading the blog but Feedburner isn’t counting them.))

Oops.

So now I’ve reinstalled the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin and this is the first new post since doing so. If all goes well, I should see the number of subscribers jump back up pretty quickly.

Either that or I suddenly became very unpopular in early September.