Friday, April 30, 2010

My Laptop

So, I lived in a family that was all about building character. We raked piles of leaves not to save money on leafblowers, but to build character. We shoveled foot after foot of snow and ice off our driveway rather than getting a snowblower to build character. Dandelions were pulled to build character, sticks picked up to build character, etc, etc.

To summarize it all, my current laptop builds character.

My laptop was purchased at the start of my sophomore year, the first year back from my mission in Sonora. We didn’t want anything special, so we built it using the functions Dell provided online. We got 32 gigs of memory, a battery that lasted two hours, and had a wireless internet card, and came with that obligatory crappy antivirus that all new laptops have. It cost a good amount of money, but once I got it in the mail in my little dorm room, I was king of the world. That was around September 2006.

I still have it.

I have to say, compared to the laptops that I have seen used by my friends and associates, I am impressed by how it’s held up. It is nothing pretty, just the standard black color and setup. The top of it is all scratched up, but it is holding together. I only have to pick up the spare screw that falls out of the casing every other week. In a way, I kind of look at it like the A-10 Warthog of laptops; ugly as sin, but it gets the job done.

The problem is the computing power. 32 gigs wasn’t all that impressive in 2006, and it is a whole lot worse in 2010. They sell mini-laptops with Spongebob Squarepants permanently painted on the casing that have around five to ten times that much memory. I’m pretty sure there are iPhones out there that could out-compute it.

Internet Explorer, iTunes and Dwarf Fortress give my computer problems when I try to run them. I mean they do that individually; running them together is a really, really bad idea. In order for Hulu to run smoothly, I have to put ice blocks underneath it so that it doesn’t overheat. With all due respect to my current antivirus, I’m pretty sure I have a spybot or virus or two, but my laptop doesn’t have the computing power to run them.

Hardware problems are starting to stack up as well. The wireless card has given out, so my laptop has to be plugged into the internet by a cord, and lately the power cord has started to randomly decide to unplug itself for no apparent reason. I have a feeling that the fan, which hasn’t been working all that well to begin with, will be next to give out. My guess is that the lifetime of this thing will be measured in months, not years.

Which is too bad really. I’ve grown used to how crappy it is. I don’t know what I’d do if everything ran smoothly. :)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing Projects

I’m at a very unusual point in my life as an author, in that I suddenly have too many things to write.

For the majority of my life, I worked on pretty much one story. It was kind of like my pet project, the one that I had built up through high school and through most of college. It was a monster epic, some 360 pages of single spaced text in Word. I never got a full wordcount on it, but just thinking about how long it was makes me shudder at the prospect of having to edit it. I actually didn’t mind working with such a large project at the time, since the story’s background was tied up with quite a few of my other creative endeavors.

In contrast to that point in time, I now have four novels in various levels of progress. The first of them, Brellan is a story that I had worked on back in college for a short time, then picked up and finished later on after graduation. It started out as a horror story set in a fantasy world. Given my inexperience with the genre, I tried to emphasize the tension and the mystery parts of the story. Unfortunately, that meant that I skimped slightly on the background and character development, which a lot of my later readers picked up on. It introduced a lot of plot holes in the story, and prevented most people from getting into the situation. The book was also left very, very short compared to most fantasy stories. As a result, I decided to shift it to more of a dark fantasy story, and include much more detail than the original contained. Due to how the revision process has worked out, though, I have only recently gotten enough commentary and ideas to start, so Brellan is still in very rough shape.

My second effort, Wolfhound, has taken a totally different route of development. It started out as a stereotypical science fiction story, and quickly grew into a novel that I still really enjoy. Wolfhound is actually a book I could see myself writing sequels to, and is pretty much the first story of mine my wife could actually read from start to finish and honestly say she enjoyed the experience. The story actually took shape much more quickly than Brellan and reached a semi-finished state much sooner. I’ve actually started querying agents for it, though I wonder if my characters still need too much work. Given that characters have never been a particular strong point (I’m far more about plots, really) I don’t know if that will improve without drastically altering things to a point where I wouldn’t be satisfied with it. So, it is a YA sci fi book that I think is awesome.

My third project is tentatively called The New Realm: Frontier. It is currently at about the halfway point for the first draft, and I have a fairly good feeling about it. Set in a standard fantasy world, the story has an interesting plot and a setting that I like enough to stick with for a while. That, and the enemies are creepy. :) I just came up with a sturdier outline for it, so things should develop well. I just need the time to finish it.

My final project is a book I am currently calling Pioneer, a title that will most likely change. It is another sci fi novel, though this one picks up a different theme. While the main character is slightly military still, the mechanics of fighting in the universe are much different, as are the motivations. Rather than a war, more or less, the characters are migrating and colonizing. Plus, this story has crazy space mechs for weapons. Bwaha. It is still no more than a third or so of the way through the first draft, but I think it will come together nicely.

In addition to these four, I have a few other ideas piling up in my head. A post-apocalyptic story, another story about a paranormal, Lovecraftian detective story of some kind, and a possible remake for my original book, as well as other crazy ideas keep bouncing in and out of my skull. It’s hard to find time lately to get work done on what I’m already dealing with, let alone this other stuff. Sigh.

So what do you guys think I should focus on? Submitting and/or wearily fine tuning Wolfhound? Rewriting Brellan? Or just focus on getting the two newer stories out? Cause at this point, dividing my time between the lot might end with me going absolutely insane, or just dropping it all. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see ya round.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Game, part two

So last time I told you about some of the fun things about my former gaming habits. Unfortunately, the time has come to reveal some of the less enjoyable aspects.

The first, and largest, problem that the games I made developed was that nobody besides me could run them. Since it lacked the system of numbers and highly defined rule system, everything kind of depended on how much attention I could pay to it, and nobody else really developed the knack for running it. That pretty much limited its wider appeal to only those who had direct access to me, which meant The Game was never going to become any more popular than I was. Given my social skills, that meant it wasn’t going to be very popular. It also meant that I was responsible for providing that entertainment to whoever wanted it, which grew old quickly.

The second problem was that some of the abilities and skills the players could develop ended up being unbalanced or uninteresting compared to others. The manner of learning physical combat was very much a bland process compared to Archmagic and Battle Magic. Psychic was a little too straightforward as well, and while Enchanter tended to be interesting, at the higher levels it too got overshadowed. Technology rarely even got recognized as a separate field. So even the final version I came up with needed a lot more tinkering to make effective.

Combined, those flaws eventually convinced me to set the game aside during college. The fact that I didn’t want to seem like a total nerd to the girls around me might have had something to do with it as well. (Though I met my wife at a nerdy writing group anyway, so my efforts were in vain. Typical.) Yet lately I have been looking at it again and wondering what I could do to correct some of these faults.

Unsurprisingly, my crazed little mind has actually come up with a few ways. The best way I could see to correct the first problem would be to actually write up a game manual so that anyone with the time or inclination would be able to use it. Of course, the second one will take a lot more tinkering to fix, so it will probably take a lot longer.

So over the next little while, I will probably occasionally post up some of these ideas and corrections. I’ll ask you to repress your horrified reaction to my nerdy behavior. :) If a principle of it interests you, just let me know so that I get some feedback. Otherwise, just bear with it, and I’ll exhaust my material eventually. Until next time!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Game, part one

That’s right, I’m posting twice in one day, since I just finished with the GRE and now have a bit more time. I’m sure it’s not the best way to go about posting three times this week, but oh well, you’ll just have to deal with it.

So, remember how I tend to get obsessed with gaming systems and the like? I mentioned at some point that after my initial encounter with Dungeons and Dragons, I started to make up my own role playing games. It was an enjoyable habit that I kept up over the years through elementary, middle and high school, though once I went to BYU I let things come to a close. There were various iterations of the system I worked with, but they all shared some common characteristics.

First off, I did away with the whole ‘class’ system that defines a lot of character roles. I didn’t like the fact that the fighter character always had a specific job to do, or had to choose from a set of skills, and that he couldn’t up and choose to be part wizard instead. I guess my limited experience hadn’t taught me about cross classing or whatever, but in my games I made sure that no matter who you were, as long as someone (or something) was available to teach you, you could build up pretty much whatever skills you wanted. It led to some interesting characters among the people who played, and gave me a lot of challenges as the game master to keep up with the different players who customized their characters effectively.

Secondly, my system didn’t involve any dice rolls. That is fairly weird, but it made sense to me. After all, things don’t always get determined by only luck. A lot of the time, things happen because of the choices people made. So before each player decided on their action, I planned out their opponents moves, and had them compared. For example, I knew the guy facing somebody was going to swing an axe at their head. If the player decided to attack, unless they were faster than the other guy, they would be hit in the head. If they blocked or dodged, depending on the angle or direction, they could escape.

Similarly, there weren’t any hit points involved. People got injured or incapacitated based on where their wounds were. Take a hit in the arm, and it was injured. Hit to the head, you had problems. Scarring and permanent damage was handled more or less the same way. Put together, it kind of helped make everything a bit more cinematic and fun to describe, rather than what felt like a bunch of math. Clever players could think up some pretty cool tricks, and we never had the experience of having to roll a bajillion dice just to figure out what happened next.

Another aspect of the games I came up with involved the campaigns. Players often didn’t have a specific objective, and they tended to have to wander in order to find something they found interesting. It gave them a lot more freedom than a focused campaign, and allowed them to have a kind of sandbox feel to what they were doing. There were enemies who built up forces and came after them, and plots that they could uncover or thwart, but how they did it and what order they faced them was up to the players, not me. It also allowed them to avoid any railroading on my part, though if they missed some of the hints I left lying around they occasionally got surprised by attacks from nowhere. They also occasionally wandered into places and situations where they could get killed easily, but I typically left them a way out after they faced the consequences of their actions.

Next time I’ll probably go into why I’m spending so much time talking about all this. Suspense! Or not…

Setting Goals

So I’ve recently been struggling to get back into the habit of setting useful goals for myself. My progress thus far has not been incredibly encouraging. While I’ve managed to get a lot more writing done than I probably would have, I keep feeling like I have a whole lot of other tasks that get left by the wayside. For example, one of my goals was to establish a steady update schedule for this blog. :)

It seems like I don’t do too well with a loose list of things I want to get done each day, or even each week. At the same time, an hour by hour specific schedule of what I want to get done and when doesn’t seem to be flexible enough to account for all of life’s wonderful little surprises. It has been a balance that I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now and it frustrates me.

The other day, as I was trying to deal with GRE studying, continuing my writing projects and struggling with all of everything else, I came up with a new system that I think might work better than the one I’ve been trying. Perhaps instead of a list of things to do, I need to give myself solid deadlines to shoot for. For example, rather than saying that I need to write 10,000 words this week, I’d say that I need to write 5,000 words by Wednesday, and another 5,000 by Saturday. It would give me the pattern of goals that school used to, and allow me to track which deadlines I accomplished and which I fell through on. Maybe it would allow me to feel more pressure about getting my goals done and more fulfillment after completing them as well.

So what do you guys think? What goal setting strategies have worked for you? Or, you know, you can lurk instead. Whatever floats your boat. :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why I Hate Bureaucracy

First off, I can never spell the stupid word right. Seriously, I get it so incredibly wrong that the Word spellchecker just kind of stares at me in confusion. Every. Single. Time.

Secondly, it seems like it is a kind of social rot that is encroaching on every part of our society. It isn’t enough to simply be able to do something any more. You have to have some piece of paper in order to certify that you can. You can’t just ask for a position, you have to send in some random information that has little chance of going anywhere but some bulk file in some paper-pusher’s computer, and then ask for a job.

In Mexico, there was a bishop serving in one of my wards who pointed this fact of life out to our young men’s group. He was a professional musician, a piano player, and believe me when I say he had skill. Unfortunately, though he knew what he was doing, and had a lot of experience at it, he couldn’t find employment because he’d never gotten an official music degree. How many brilliant musicians, scientists, philosophers or teachers are we missing nowadays simply because they didn’t go through the paper mill that our school systems have become?

Of course, some would argue that the paperwork is necessary to ensure the people who are given jobs have qualifications. Then again, I would say that just as many people these days manage to have the paperwork and not the skill it is supposed to represent, so the idea that it justifies the whole system rings a little hollow. Especially since I suspect that nobody bothers to check it anyway, so most of these things just sit in somebody’s trash can waiting to fill a dump somewhere.

Perhaps I’m just in a bitter attitude about things lately, but the more and more as I think about it, bureaucracy as we know it consists of trying to hide from the actual world behind a piece of paper. It obstructs people more than it helps them. Doctors spend more time filling out forms than treating patients, scientists are lauded more on publishing than on actual discoveries, and politicians care about statistics more than statesmanship. I have to wonder how far all of this will go before it just all comes crashing down.

Oh well. My view is a little colored by my ‘useful’ Molecular Biology degree in the first place as well as the recent process of filing taxes, so I’m biased. What do you think?

Friday, April 16, 2010

On Gaming Systems

So I have a particular obsession with gaming systems. I don’t really mean videogames, though I enjoy those as much as anybody. I mean the mechanics behind the games, the things that make the game fun and interesting. I don’t know where I picked it up, but that interest has been with me as far back as I can remember. I was always the weird kid who would read through the instruction manuals for books, study the bestiaries for RPGs, that kind of thing.

Eventually, I found a friend who introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I played it for about fifteen minutes and decided I didn’t like how it worked. After that I started a habit of making up my own games. Another friend and I started out making simple pen and paper games, and eventually worked our way up to making our own role playing games. It was something that lasted part of the way through high school, and provided me with a lot of material for my earlier stories.

Nowadays, I still tend to get…distracted… whenever I find a system that interests me. I study it until I understand it, more or less, and then move on. It’s strange sometimes that I know so much about these games without ever having played them. I have the perfect Tau army and fleet planned out for Warhammer 40k, and I’ve never considered buying a model. I’ve planned out the character progress and ships I would use in Eve Online, and yet the closest I came to an MMORPG was a free to play thing that I gave up on. It’s that kind of a thing.

Does anyone else do this, or am I just weird. I guess one explanation is as good as another, but for some reason it is a habit I can’t seem to shake. Perhaps it is linked in with my own worldbuilding mindset, or at least the urge I have to find settings that I could use to tell stories. Oh well. I guess it is one more oddity that is part of my already strange life. :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Career Choices, Part Two

Falling back onto what I thought was a solid plan B, my wife and I moved to Texas, hoping that she could find work in her Latin teaching career, and that my molecular biology degree could land me a job in the nearby research labs, especially since we had some contacts that we felt could help us. As it turned out, something I had repeatedly told my friends and family came dreadfully true. A Molecular Biology bachelors isn’t taken seriously unless you have a graduate education, medical or otherwise, to back it up. I was soon out of work, and while we were fortunate enough to have savings and a job for my wife, it was a little discouraging.

Nevertheless, I reapplied to medical school, hoping that this time, as I had started volunteering in the nearby hospitals, I would be more successful. Interviews came and went, and then the long wait came. Medical schools don’t reply right away, and can more or less sit on your application until May or early June of the next year. The phrase “the anticipation is killing me” falls well short of what I was going through.

In the midst of this wait, I decided to finish off a story I had started in Brandon Sanderson’s 318R class at BYU. Sanderson is an incredible author, and I have always been impressed by his work. His class had us writing a new novel, which broke me away from the traditional story I had been slaving on for years, and focused me on something new. It was a horror story set in a fantasy world that I titled Brellan. I soon started pounding away at the fantasy novel I had not yet completed, and managed to finish it by late December.

I had not been writing in the preceding time, what with the stress of moving, reapplying and freaking out over my life’s shortfalls. Starting it up again was like breathing fresh air after being stuck in a cave for months. Another idea for a new novel, this time a science fiction one, popped into my head, and I started in on it. Before I knew it, the first draft of
Wolfhound was quickly taking up more of my time, effort and enthusiasm than Brellan was, and grew into a story that I was much happier with. I finished the first draft around the same time, and put it through a hefty series of revisions. Around the beginning of February, I had a draft I was satisfied could be shown to the public, and allowed my wife to read it. Though she hates sci fi, dislikes space battles in general, and has told me to my face on multiple occasions when she hates my characters and scenes, she liked it and encouraged me to try to publish it.

So at this point, I have had people read through it and give me their opinions, and put it through a few more rewrites. Currently, I am sending out query letters to agents and hoping my efforts there produce a bit more response than my medical aspirations thus far have. At the same time, I’ll be taking the GRE soon, starting to look at master’s degrees in Molecular Biolgy, and continuing to volunteer in a nearby emergency room and wait on the medical schools that are still considering me. Hopefully, I am not trying to juggle too much at once.

So that’s where I am right now, and where I hope to be going. Probably boring to most, but I figure a small update or background might help frame my future posts more clearly. Until next time!

On Career Choices, Part One

So, over the past half a year or so, I have managed to finish two different books, one of which I am currently trying to get published.

It sounds like quite an achievement, doesn’t it? After all, not many people can say they’ve written a book, certainly less can say they’ve written two. Still, it has been an interesting journey getting to this point in my life.

When I came back from my mission, it was initial decision to try to be a published writer. The reason for that came from my own personal desire to continue writing throughout my life, and advice I got from my mission president. I had an interest in writing since high school, where I had cobbled together a 360 page, single space monstrosity that I was eternally working on. Even during my mission, I would spend breaks tinkering with story plans and ideas, and the writing group I had joined during my freshman year and BYU had given me many wonderful experiences, including meeting my future wife.

The advice from my mission president also was fairly blunt. He had placed me in various leadership positions over the two years I’d served under him, and it was his observation that I didn’t much like managing people. I could do it, and I could enjoy some measure of success at it, but both he and I had noticed that I endured an awful lot of stress as a result because I tried to drive myself and everyone around me to perfection. Given that most jobs that are able to support a family in business, education, and research involve some level of management, and worse, bureaucracy, he felt I should pursue a less management oriented career. I agreed.

Then I got home. Life is much more complicated and less pleasant than a returning missionary likes to believe. I had to think a bit more seriously about where a future income was going to come from, and about what I could support a family on. Based on the advice of family and friends, I chose Molecular Biology for my major, and just kept working on writing as a hobby.

Years passed, I courted and married my wife, and my career goals continued to be refined. From the stories I was hearing from one of my mentors who I had worked under in high school, research was not exactly an encouraging place to go. Medicine quickly took the place of research, and seemed to provide me with everything I would want in a career. A way to help people in my daily work, a stable financial basis for my future family, and a real career I could grow and develop in.

Unfortunately for me, my medical aspirations quickly ran into some hefty obstacles. None of the members of my immediate family had ever really been involved in medical practices, and aside from a pair of cousins who were EMTs and also just barely applying to med school, I was kind of isolated from everyone else who did. The advice from the school career counselor was “do research instead” which must have seemed logical, because by the time I started seriously into premedical preparations, others in my class had been doing volunteer hours and job shadowing for years.

I soldiered on, confident I could win the med schools over. The MCAT came, and I did fairly well on it, which was a good sign. Other signs were less than stellar. To my dismay, I found I was applying later than I should have been, and I sorely lacked a lot of the volunteer experiences that I needed. While I rushed to catch up, rejection letters flowed back to me, and by the time I graduated, I had nowhere to go.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Title

Alright, so the first real post of this blog should probably explain the title. That way you all get a feel for what you can expect from this thing.

The main reason why I’m going to be starting this thing up is that I need a resting place for all of my crazy ideas. Those of you who know me, or are familiar with anything I do know that I can sometimes have way too many ideas at once, and not enough time to get them all down. I’m betting a lot of these ideas aren’t necessarily good or even useful, but if I have a place to store some of this crap, I hope that I will be able to go back through it and find a good idea or two growing in the midst.

Of course, another purpose is to remember some of the stuff I’ve gone through lately. Given my current situation, it would be easy to forget all the work it has taken to get me through this much of life, and I don’t want to do that. So, in some ways, this blog is going to be a kind of record of all the stuff I’ve waded through, and possibly of what that effort gains me.

The last purpose, almost as important as the others, is that Fertilizer fits my own self-effacing brand of humor. If I’m going to blog, I might as well do it under a title that reminds me not to take myself too seriously, and allows me to chuckle every once in a while. What better reason for a title could there be, right?

And so it begins…

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Starting up

Yeah, so my dear wife has been after me to start up a blog, and I am finally relenting. I'm pretty sure that I am the last of my writing friends to do so, but that's probably more due to my stubbornness than anything else. There's not much else to say other than that at the moment, so I will leave you hanging until the next post. See ya round.