2019 NaNoWriMo Done Early!

So November was a really intense month of writing. I’ve been pretty productive this year, averaging about 24 hours of writing time each month. November kicked it up and it took me 32.75 hours to write my 50,353 words, which is about 1537 words an hour. (Yes, I track these things. What can I say? I like data!)

As usual, the novel isn’t done. I think it’ll be around 80,000 words when I finish this draft. A little short, but I’ve got ideas for expanding it in the next draft.

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NaNoWriMo 2019 Day 10

Day 10 and my NaNoWriMo is finally back on track with 15,902 words and plenty of writing time left in the day to get on par of 16,670. I forgot how difficult it is to catch up when you’re two days behind. That’s what I get for having events two nights in a row. I should know better than to schedule stuff like that in November. Wednesday I went to the Willamette Writers Salem Chapter meeting and then Thursday was French class. I don’t have any other back to back events on my calendar for the rest of the month. Yesterday was a sit down and write day. I got in 5,778 words in about three and a half hours. Not quite a personal best, since I hit 10K in one day back in ‘08, but the most I’ve done in a very long time.

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While my story is going well (haven’t hit that 20K swamp yet), I’m pretty annoyed with the new NaNoWriMo website. My buddy list was wiped, and half of my historic project are gone. The first times I tried to update my word count, it didn’t take. Which is why my graph is showing zero words for day one. Another frustration is that there is no way to go in and edit word count by day. Also, almost every time I navigate around the site, I have to log back in. So many frustrations.

There are some major software failures going on here. As a software engineer, I’m extremely disappointed, getting logged out while navigating the site is the worst. It is nice to see they have a Known Issues and Current Priorities posted in the forums, and that I’m not the only one having these issues, but the entire site feels like chaos to me. Like, I have no idea how they’re calculating the number of words needed today. Any gradeschooler can do the math and see that I don’t need 1421 words to get to 16,670. The new features of being able to set a timer and it calculate your words per minute hardly makes up for the mess that the site has become. I really should concentrate on my novel instead of all these software failures, but in truth, this new site shouldn’t have launched in this state.

Update: The buddy list is empty by design because they want to make all buddies mutual. I discovered this down a deep rabbit hole in the forums. From a UX perspective, it would have been nice for this to be stated on the buddy page so that I didn’t have to hunt for it. I’m sure there are people who didn’t do the hunting and are pissed as hell that they don’t have any buddies.

Tex’s French Grammar

French 101 ended last week, so I’ve been off. Before letting us go for the break, my teacher shared with us an amazing website for learning/practicing French. It’s hosted by the University of Texas at Austin and features an armadillo named Tex, appropriately called Tex’s French Grammar.

I love this site. Not only has it been doing a great job of keeping me practicing my French during the break, but I’m also learning the keystroke shortcuts for all those ‘special’ French characters with accents like â, è, é, ç, etc.

Plus, Tex is adorable and the subject matter is a little absurd. Where else would there be “Voici un poème érotique. C’est pour toi, Tammy.” in the fill in the blank exercises? (For those of you who don’t have any French, the translation is: “Here is an erotic poem. It is for you, Tammy.”)

This site makes language learning fun, and I suggest you check it out!

A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes Exhibit

I made it to MoPop Seattle for their A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes exhibit before it closed Labor Day weekend, and I’m so glad I went. The pieces ranged from the functional to the artistic, the humerus to the absurd, from low tech to high tech. Every piece inspired thoughts of characters and cultures and worlds.

The exhibit was broken into seven female archetypes:

  • Thespian
  • Mother Earth
  • Explorer
  • Enchantress
  • Magician
  • Sage
  • Heroine

Symbols, histories, and colors were given for each. It was a storyteller’s dream. I appreciated how technology and alternate materials were brought into the exhibit.

This piece by Diana Scherer was made using subterranean templates to guide the roots as they grow.

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Another piece, created by CuteCircuit, was a sound shirt that allowed deaf people to feel music on their skin using micro-actuators.

Here are some other highlights:

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This was an amazing exhibit and I’m so glad I was able to fit it in before it left MoPop.

The Boot

There’s a sweet little trick called “The Boot” or “La Botte” for conjugating regular “-er” French verbs. The endings are a little different, but the verbs inside “the boot” are all pronounced the same! So for the verb “parler” (to speak) the conjugation is:

  • Je parle*
  • Tu parles*
  • Il/Elle parle*
  • Nous parlons
  • Vous parlez
  • Ils/Ells parlent*

The ones marked with an asterisk have the same pronunciation. If you write them in two even columns, you can draw a nice little “boot” around them to remember that you don’t pronounce the final -e, -s, and -ent!

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Learning French Numbers

I can count in French, forward and backward, from 0 to 100 (and from there to 200, 300, 1000, etc. because at that point it’s quite logical and straightforward). What I’ve been having difficulty with is recognizing numbers outside of that ordered context.

My solution? Break out the 10-sided dice from Ye Olde D&D Dice Bag. Roll two of them together and I have the numbers 0-99 sufficiently randomized. I’ve also got the D20 in there because when the French count, they like to do math. So 17 is 10+7. 75 is 60+15. 80 is 4*20. 99 is 4*20+19.

Hope this method helps someone else!

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OSCON 2019

I took a day out of the office to visit OSCON 2019 with some coworkers. The opening keynotes were inspiring and IBM’s Code and Response initiative had me racking my brain for ways I could use code to help when natural disasters strike. Then, the fire alarm went off.

Thousands of nerds sat in the Portland Ballroom, waiting to be told if we needed to evacuate or if it was a false alarm. Eventually, they evacuated us. My assumption is that the construction workers on the north side of the building managed to trip an alarm. We milled about outside and across from the convention center and waited to be let back in.

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We returned for the final keynotes and then headed to the Expo Hall. Holy Swagapalooza, am I glad I brought my backpack. In addition to a major sticker haul, I got water bottles, t-shirts, a tree (! it will eventually be a tree when I plant it), some notebooks, a bottle of hot sauce, and a whole bunch of open source projects to follow up on.

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Highlights from the Expo

  • Talking with the representative from the Python Software Foundation about next year’s PyCon
  • Chatting with the guys from Gnome about running Linux on toaster ovens. Why? Because we totally can!
  • Geeking out with PXD WIT and finding out they have meetings in Vancouver, WA
  • Playing with the claw machine trying to win a stuffed giraffe after watching a Visual Studio Code demo at the Microsoft booth
  • Racing from booth to booth with my coworkers snagging as much free stuff as we could fit into our bags!

I had a cheapo ticket which only let me into the sponsored talks, and the most interesting one I managed to get into was Romeo Kienzler’s Toward a de facto standard in AI: What’s new in TensorFlow 2.0. He showed off some pretty cool new features, such as downloading logs and hyper parameters, and it made me want to play with TensorFlow and Keras. When I have the time, right?!?

OSCON is going to be in Portland again next year, by which time I may have gotten though exploring all the notes and researching all the projects I discovered this year!

 

Recent Acquisitions

The Burnside Powell’s Bookstore is always a dangerous place for me. I like to take a walk through the metaphysical and occult books and stop for a glance through their case of tarot cards, just to see what they have. I never ask them to open it for two reasons. One, I’m trying to keep my tarot card collection under control, and two, that would require interaction with a human stranger.

When I went on my latest stroll through the purple room, a clerk had the case open and a woman was looking at the selection. I couldn’t resist. I asked the clerk if it was okay for me to look, too. Of course it was.

I’ve looked at the case from the outside at least a dozen times, but this was the first time I noticed the quartz crystal hanging inside it. It’s a nice touch, since many of the decks are used. In addition to the tarot decks, there were also some oracle decks and some Lenormand decks. A very nice selection. I limited myself to two, both from Lo Scarabeo. (I am such a Lo Scarabeo fan girl. I just can’t help myself.)

The Pocket Golden Edition of the Klimt Tarot features artwork by Klimt adapted by A. A. Atanassov to fit the tarot, and they are beautiful. The three cards I was drawn to the most on first flipping through the deck were all Pentacles. Perhaps fitting due to the gold leaf on each card?

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For me, the combination of Art Deco and Egyptian motifs in the Ace of Pentacles speaks to the period in which Klimt worked. The woman on the Four of Pentacles has eyes that stare out of the card and I want to know what she’s thinking. Then there’s the King of Pentacles who wears a ponderously pondering expression, as though the crown weighs heavily on his head. I also love the “mini” size of the deck.

The other deck I purchased was the Bix Tarot, which has been on my wish list for a while. It features an adorable cartoon bunny. How could I pass it up?

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Being an Aquarius, The Star card has a special place in my heart. I also love this deck’s card for The World, with Bix exiting the shell with a “Hello, world!” wave. And the Queen of Cups looks like she’s been surprised in the bath. This whole deck just makes me smile.

My budget might not be too happy with me, but these two new decks are right at home in my collection.

5 Keys to a Successful Critique Group

I’ve been running a critique group for a while now and it has been a fantastic experience. Though we write in different genres and were born to different generations, every two weeks we meet in person to improve our writing. Here are the five things that I believe make us a successful critique group:

  1. Limited page count. We have a soft limit of ten pages. Some of us go over that. One time someone submitted 27 pages with the caveat of not expecting us to critique the whole thing. Almost all of us critiqued the entire piece. However, having that page count in place is a guideline. Not everyone hits those ten pages every time. (And for the meeting following the 27-page submission, that same writer submitted only a single page.)
  2. Limited membership. There are only six of us, but each one of us is submitting every two weeks. If we all submit ten pages, that’s a heck of a lot of reading and critiquing to do (and when some of us go over, that just adds to the time spent). Keeping the membership limited also allows us to use our time and have discussions about the pieces we read. It also allows the writer to ask the readers questions.
  3. Diversity. In age. In genre. In type of piece. In experience. Some of us are published. Some are not. Some of us are writing novels, others short stories, and even memoirs. As far as skill goes, each member is strong in the basics. We’re not here to line edit or teach grammar. We’re here for story, and while there are occasional grammatical errors and typos, the writing tends to be cogent. The diversity in genre has made things very interesting for me, as I write more speculative fiction. There are people in the group who do not read genre fiction, and their questions have helped me see where I need to clarify my own writing, as well as things that readers of my genre take for granted.
  4. Guidelines. We have a rough set of guidelines for feedback: What worked, what didn’t work, and suggestions for improvement. I’ve found these guidelines are a great focus for me while reading the pieces that are submitted, especially when reading a piece that fits into a genre that I don’t normally read. I also mark typos and grammatical errors, and ask questions. If something makes me laugh, or there’s a particularly poetic line, I note that, too. A lot of the feedback I give is positive. Negative feedback is given diplomatically, and with the knowledge that it’s just one person’s opinion. We also expect pieces to be submitted in standard manuscript format. It’s professional and having it standardized really does make all those submissions easier to read.
  5. Desire to Improve. Getting feedback can be hard. We all recognize that, and that we’re all in the critique group to improve our writing. Going back and reworking a piece after spending hours on it can be daunting. I know. I’ve done it. I’m rewriting a 7,500 word story from a different point of view and with a different protagonist because this critique group helped me see that it wasn’t quite right the first time around.

Visconti Modrone Tarot Kickstarter

Another fine Kickstarter campaign from Lo Scarabeo. (I heard that there were some inconsistencies in the quality of the decks received, but I’m completely happy with mine.) I contributed to all three volumes of the Lo Scarabeo Tarot Compendium books, and I couldn’t pass this one up. After months of waiting, it arrived!

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The box is beautiful with embossed lettering and an illuminated “M.” The red microfiber cloth is a nice little addition, as is the reproduction coin, which has significant weight to it. It would be nice if the red sealing wax was perfumed, but I understand that some people have adverse reactions to certain scents. The crowned snake seal that goes with it is simple and elegant. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but it was a nice stretch goal. I like that the designers used artwork from the cards for both the coin and the seal.

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The hardcover book provides a detailed description of the restoration process as well as justification for creating a deck of 89 cards, 11 more than today’s standard deck of 78. In addition to the interpretation of each of the cards, there is a separate section on the iconography of the Triumphs, a brief and historic description of the game, and advice on readings using ancient decks.

Each suite has six court cards instead of the usual four. In addition to the King, Queen, Knight, and Knave, we have the Equestrienne, the female counterpart to the Knight, and the Lady, the female counterpart to the Knave. Cards representing the Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity were also included in the deck as additions to the Major Arcana.

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The cards themselves, with their gold and silver leaf, literally glow. The pip cards do not have the pictorial images we are accustomed to today, but are striking in their simple artwork.

The over-sized dimensions of the cards are awkward in my little hands, so I don’t think this deck will get much normal use. In addition to it being a keepsake, I can foresee it becoming a valuable tool in my understanding of the history of the Tarot.