2017-04-23

Dilemma

 My current day job is doing Microsoft Access programming. I love to write code! The joy of seeing a program you've written running, generating the data you asked it to produce and functioning correctly is hard to describe. One might think that after work I would rather spend my free time doing other things--like writing. Not so recently!

I've embarked on a quest to learn web programming. This involves becoming familiar with many different technologies. For now, I'm focusing on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using just those three technologies, a person can build some incredibly sophisticated websites. Recently, I've been torn between continuing my web studies or writing. It's been a tough choice.

Writing at one level is a lot like programming. Both work within the semantics of a specific language. Both involve stringing together the small pieces of that language in a specific pattern to produce a final product. Both require the creator to think ahead--often far ahead. Rewrites are common and mistakes can cause the whole thing to stop working. I love writing and seeing a final product available for purchase and seeing the good reviews is also a thrill that's hard to describe. When programming and writing both become a priority, a dilemma is created.

Why am I working on learning web technology? Several reasons: As some of you might recall, the power plant I work at could be sold or closed within the next 18 to 24 months. Learning a new programming skill will help if I need to find a new job if I'm laid off. I also would like to revamp my author website. Right now, that website is being hosted by a company that insists on forcing the subscriber to build websites using their proprietary web-builder software. Although it's pretty slick, there are now things I want to do that can't be done on this host. I plan on moving my site to a different host where I can hand-build my website as I see fit.

I did manage to finish the first chapter of my next book though. It's a sequel to Off Course and it will provide a hard link between that short 2-book series to my Dragonverse series. Science fiction and the world of dragons all come together--who could ask for more? It's not going to be an easy book to write because one of the primary characters is an AI. Once I get past the first few chapters though, I think things will begin to move along quickly.

Speaking of books, Peacekeeper Pathogen should be on its way to my second-level review very shortly. The first round of proofing is nearly complete with only three chapters remaining. I'm hoping to have it in the hands of my German reader by the first of the month. I also just got back the revised cover art and it looks perfect. That will allow me to begin working on the cover. If all goes well, you will see it when I post next week.

2017-04-16

Spring

My wonderful wife is nearing the end of her review of Peacekeeper Pathogen. She has only a few chapters left. If all goes well, I will be entering all her changes and sending the book off to my final proofreader in Germany. While he does his review, I will be working on finalizing the cover and formatting the interior for both Kindle and Createspace (ebook and print version). When I'm not actively working on Pathogen, I will be working on my next book or continuing my studies of HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.

I don't have a name for the next book yet. I'm thinking of titles such as: Back On Course, Weapon, and Psycho Ship, but so far none of those seem to fit. I've had to restart the first chapter of this book three times before getting it right. The first writing was all wrong and it just didn't work. The second revision's timeline just didn't work and it would have required too much explanation as to why the crew of the ship did things they way they did. Finally, I got it right yesterday morning and now the book can move forward.

While working on the second revision the other day, my MalwareBytes suddenly decided to identify Scrivener as ransomware! It moved the executable into the quarantine folder and refused to allow me to move it back until after I rebooted. I then had to tell MalwareBytes that Scrivener was not malware. I was then able to restore the program to its correct location so I could continue writing. What's odd about all this is Scrivener has not had an update in a long time. Very odd. At least I know my MalwareBytes is working to protect me, even if it is a bit overzealous.

Last Monday, I attended the annual Books and Cooks event at one of our libraries. This was my third time and, as like the other times, I sold no books. But events like this are not just about sales. It;s about supporting your local library and making yourself available to the public. Although I didn't sell any books, I did add some names to my mailing list and I got to talk to some people who were interested my reading my books. Since the library is only a few miles from my house, the only thing I lost was a few hours and none of that is what I would consider as wasted. I sat next to another wonderful author I've known for several years and we had a very good discussion concerning author-stuff.

The title of this post is Spring. Spring is when most people spend a considerable amount of time cleaning the outside and the inside of their house. It's where the term Spring Cleaning comes from. I took the opportunity to build a new edging around the mulch bed at the front of the house. Last weekend, I cleaned up the back porch by putting the cat houses away, power-washing the cement on the side of the house, and swapping the lawn mower and the snow blower. I also spent some time going through my computer and cleaning out all the old junk that no longer needs to be there.

Spring cleaning for me also involves going through all my writing materials and getting them organized. I empty the desk drawers and reorganize them, getting rid of things that I no longer need or filing things that were just put somewhere with the intent of being filed later. I go through my books and make a prioritized list of which ones I will read next. I like to live an organized life and doing a good Spring cleaning on my writing life is something that certainly helps.

2017-04-09

I'm Back

It's been a month since I last posted here. During my absence, I was working 6-days a week 12-hours a day. Obviously, that does not leave much time for writing or blogging. In case you're curious, here's what I did during the last month:

I work at a nuclear power plant and we shut the unit down every 2 years for refueling and to perform maintenance on items that cannot be accessed while the plant is running. Prior to taking my current job position, I was a technician in the instrumentation and controls department. During outages, we would perform many duties, some of them I no longer enjoy. Dressing out in an anti-contamination suit and climbing up a 60 foot ladder in 90 degree heat combined with high humidity is no longer something I want to do. I did it for many years and now I have a desk job.

My duties during an outage are to support the needs of the OCC. That's the Outage Control Center where a group of skilled managers direct the activities to keep the outage schedule on-track. My normal day began with getting up at 0200 and arriving at my desk around 0300 each morning. We use a collection of computer programs that read our schedule and generate a plethora of reports for use in the OCC. It is my job to assist in making sure these reports are generated without any issues. I also have a series of reports that I have developed that I run throughout the day to keep the OCC staff informed.

I'm also available to provide anyone in the OCC with ad-hoc data-mining requests. I also run a series of programs I developed that others in the organization use and it is my job to ensure that these programs continue to run without any issues. When problems arise, I am there to correct the code or figure out why the data is not being processed in a timely manner.

When I'm not actively supporting the OCC, I spend my time writing Microsoft Access database programs for the Work Management department I work for as well as other departments throughout the company. My major project this outage was the completion of the conversion of a Visual Basic 6 program I'd written in 2003 for our simulator group. This program tracks the configuration of the simulator down to the location of every wire as well as tracking all work that needs to be performed to keep the simulator in compliance and functioning properly. I am happy to report that the simulator program (called SCMS or Simulator Configuration Management System) has been successfully converted to Microsoft Access and is currently being tested.

We also broke a record during this outage. The plant was offline for 29 days 10 hours and 41 minutes making this the shortest outage in the plant's history. Having worked there for 30 years, I was very happy to see this record being made.

Now that the outage is over, I can get back to working on writing. But writing might not be as high a priority as before. With the possibility that the plant I have worked at for so long could be closed, I decided I need to boost my computer skills in case I need to seek employment elsewhere. I'm an expert Microsoft Access programmer but having just that one skill is not enough these days. I have started learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I also plan on becoming more experienced with how to program Microsoft Excel and Word.

Peacekeeper Pathogen is still being proofed by my wife and I hope to have it ready for a second proof by my friend in Germany in under a month. I have a preliminary cover but after having it peer reviewed by other authors I'm going to ask my artist if she can't make a few changes. In the meantime, I plan on working on my next book. It's a sequel to Off Course.

Time to get back to work!

2017-02-26

Going Silent

Next week, beginning at the stroke of midnight on Sunday morning, the power plant I work at will begin a refueling outage. Every two years, the plant shuts down for extensive maintenance and to replace about one-third of its nuclear fuel. During this time I will be working 12-hour days. I will be getting up at 0200 and sitting at my desk by 0300 every morning except Wednesday when I will have to be there an hour earlier. These strange hours are due to my responsibilities during the outage.

Each day, the schedulers put out a new schedule for the work that is to be done. This schedule is published by 0300 unless there is an issue that needs to be resolved. At 0313 sharp, an automatic computer program reads this schedule and generates a plethora of reports that are then distributed to the workgroups and management. If the schedule is not ready, this automatic program must be manually stopped until the schedule is fixed. Monitoring this massive report generator is part of my job.

I also manually generate my own reports from our scheduling system and these must be created and either printed and delivered or converted to PDF and shared with the rest of the organization. All this takes a few hours each morning. The reason for the shift in time on Wednesday is because the other person who does this has elected to take Wednesdays off. He is the person who is normally responsible for shutting down the report generator if needed but when he's not there, that responsibility falls to me. Instead of having to alter my working schedule by many hours each Wednesday, I've selected my working hours to be such that I can easily come in an hour or two earlier if needed.

After this flurry of activity in the morning, my day slows down. I will be monitoring a group of report generators I've written that help the group of managers in the Outage Control Center keep track of the progress of the outage. When I'm not doing that, I'm usually extracting data from our various databases to answer ad-hoc questions from management. In my spare time, I'll be working on building and enhancing the database applications I'm responsible for.

Because of my odd working hours, I will most likely stop publishing this blog until the outage is over. We are committed to having an outage of 28 days 3 hours. So, this might be my last post for at least a month. If I have time during the outage, I will post, but as of now, I'm not offering any guarantees.

My wife is slowly making her way through Peacekeeper Pathogen and I have high hopes she will be done by the end of the outage. I've been keeping ahead of her with another editing pass through the manuscript making small changes and fixing things that were missed in the other passes. I've already received a couple of preliminary cover ideas from my cover artist and so far I like what I see.

Finally, I'd like to make another plug for my Launch Pad fundraiser. The application window is closing in a few days but the fundraiser will continue to collect donations up until the workshop starts in June. If you think keeping the science in science fiction as realistic as possible, then you should consider helping keep this workshop alive. Large donations are becoming harder to find and small fundraisers like the one I'm running are vitally important. If you want more information on this wonderful workshop, please let me know. I would be happy to discuss it with you.

You can easily donate any amount by going to: https://www.gofundme.com/launch-pad-workshop

2017-02-19

Writing Groups

Up until recently, I've been going to the same writing group for nearly 5 years. Due to an unfortunate series of circumstances (bad weather, health of the group's founder, and a hacked computer) the group has fallen apart. I hadn't been to a meeting for about 3 months and when I finally had a chance to go, nobody showed up. I sent out an email and nobody seemed to know what was going on. This month, I went again and the only other person to appear was the group's founder. Her computer was hacked and she has had no access to her email account for some time. Unable to keep the group members informed, things fell apart. I fear the group is no more.

I've always enjoyed getting feedback from other writers. I've also tried out other writers groups. There is another one that meets at a library and yesterday I decided to go to that one. The location and timing are such that my wife cannot attend which is why I chose the other group over the one I attended yesterday. I've always learned something from the feedback I receive at a meeting and I believe it's important for a writer to get periodic feedback.

Choosing a writer's group is a personal choice. Some groups get together to talk about what's happening in the publishing world or just to discuss things like how to format a book, how to find an agent, or other topics. I prefer a group where a member reads something and the others comment on what was read. It's better if the group asks the writer to bring printed copies to comments can be returned to the writer for later reading. This type of constructive feedback along with the questions concerning the overall feel of the piece can help a writer improve. The key here is the feedback should be constructive. Instead of saying, "this sentence is garbage," the person thinking that should say instead, "I think this sentence could better be written as ...".

I took back 5 different sets of written comments on the short piece I brought. Many commented on the same parts of the text. When that happens, take note! That means there's something to be learned here. Read the comments carefully, think about them, and incorporate them into your writing skills. If only one person comments on a section, take that into consideration as well. Every comment is valid and a chance for even an experienced writer to learn.

The piece I brought was from Peacekeeper Pathogen. It had already been gone over twice. While the general feeling was it was good, the group did have some specific comments. Taking those comments to the bookstore afterward I quickly saw a pattern. I accepted most of the comments and made changes. I learned. Now, when I write and edit, that new knowledge will help me become a better writer. In fact, I will most likely go back and take another look at the entire manuscript knowing that my mind will see things differently.

Another way to learn how to write better is to read. Pick up a book from a well-known author and read it. Read it slowly. Identify the paragraphs and sentences that strike you as well-written. Even if you don't consciously see something, your brain is picking up on the writing style and learning. The trick is to read it slowly. If you find yourself picking up the pace because you are enjoying the book, then slow down. Savor the words. They didn't become well-known because their writing is bad!