I hate “Track Changes” with a passion

The world of open source has commoditized many things. It’s the key reason my wife and I could move off of Windows and onto Macs without the world knowing or caring. Key apps we use are Chrome and LibreOffice. These tools are free and open. It takes no effort to crank a PDF of a document.

Then we run into the situation with editors. Much of the writing world has invested itself in MS Word’s tools like Track Changes. And so we get back an edited manuscript loaded with tracked changes. “Maintain the changes!” “Submit your chapullmebackinnges and I’ll merge them”

Hence, I have to keep a copy of MS Word for Mac on all my computers.

Today my wife got her manuscript chopped up by her line editor, the last of a series of edits. She couldn’t edit it on her MacBook Air. I could on my MacBook Pro as well as the Mac Pro tower. So I relinquished my throne so she could work on the tower computer. I suppose working on software from the sofa isn’t the worse thing. What burns me up is that between all three of these computers were three versions: 14.0, 14.1, and 14.4.

I have no clue what’s wrong!

We need something better than track changes. And we need the writing community to rise up and demand such freely available tools so the pox of MS Word can be lain in its grave. I have done my part by writing Learning Spring Boot in Asciidoctor and leaning on Packt to adopt it wholesale. But I fear that day may never come. And so I hang my head and weep.

It’s 11pm at night. Do you know where your POV is?

medieval-townLast night, around 11pm, I wrapped up a long edit on Darklight. Ever since the Clarksville Christian Writers started meeting early this year, I have gotten in gear for cleaning up my manuscript.

One of my fabulous beta readers, a published author, spotted my issue with POV (Point of View). I head hopped all the time and used the style of a narrator. “Clarel heard soldiers approaching”, “Clarel felt people brush past her”, etc. This puts distance between the reader and Clarel and also becomes wearisome. It’s better to write “Booted feet filled Clarel’s ears” and “Someone brushed past her”. Why? Instead of narrating what’s happening and TELLING the reader what is being thought, seen, and heard, you instead must SHOW them through the character’s eyes, ears, and words.

A nice side effect of Deep POV is that extraneous sentences melt away. When showing a scene through Clarel’s viewpoint, sentences that share another character’s thoughts must be purged. If their thoughts, ideas, and motives are still critical, they can be brought back in either dialog or facial expression. It would be maddening if Clarel asked a character a question, and that character pauses! Naturally, Clarel would ask a question to squeeze out an answer. This leads to tension and the type of communication we all embrace everyday.

I also cleaned out a whole lot of “helper” verbs. Grammatically speaking, “helper” verbs are things like “will go”, “could buy”, “and should pick up”. In my sloppy writing experience, I add on things like “seemed to be walking”, “appeared to be want to buy”, and more. I felt guilty at using them EVERYWHERE. In the process of boiling away all these unnecessary words, the story I wrote becomes leaner and meaner. This is also known as tightening up the manuscript. By only providing the minimal words needed to communicate the story, the words that remain become more powerful. I am proud to say that what used to be almost 77,000 words has now slimmed down to 70,000+. 6500 fewer words has yielded what I feel is a MUCH better story.

One of the hardest things for me to pickup were sentence fragments. Years of english taught me to always write complete sentences. But when I picked up and read “Killing Floor” by Lee Child, I noticed that not everything was “perfect”. In many situations he used sentence fragments to punch up the language. The amazing thing is, I didn’t notice! I was too busy flipping page after page. to keep up with the action. Since that’s what I want my own readers doing, I relaxed my own discipline on this arena.

“What are we going to do? He’s coming!” she continued to worry. Cold night. Wet feet. None of it distracted her. She was too caught up in the news she had learned from one of her nefarious contacts. She approached a familiar street corner and slowed down. Snitch saw a group of people from the Raiders gang. She looked behind herself and realized it was too late to back up and find another route.

In the excerpt above, I have highlighted a small bit where I used sentence fragments. Your english teacher may crack your knuckles with a ruler if you did that on a test. But this type of stuff builds riveting acting. People often cite Steven King’s “you must know the rules so you know when to break them.” Steven King taught english before becoming a hit novelist, raking in $40 million a year.

Indeed we need to learn things like Deep POV, show-don’t-tell, and proper usage of grammar and words. Because once we master it, we can then bend, twist, and put language to work for us.

Don’t forget to sign up for updates about Darklight.

Announcing @SpringSocial @Ecobee 0.1.0.RELEASE

Greetings Spring community,

Spring Social Ecobee is a community project lets you connect to your Ecobee Smart Thermostat. Right now, it has a handful of functions like looking up all your thermostats, getting sensor readings, and posting status messages to your thermostats. Ecobee’s REST API has a plethora of functions such as overrides, programming, home/away settings, and more. Support for these will be added to Spring Social Ecobee as time progresses.

Releases are published to maven central. Visit the project site if you need details to work with snapshots.

Project page:  https://github.com/gregturn/spring-social-ecobee
Discussion: https://gitter.im/gregturn/spring-social-ecobee
CI: https://travis-ci.org/gregturn/spring-social-ecobee
Version: 0.1.0.RELEASE

Sign up for my newsletter!

Happy coding!

Darklight joins @pinterest

I recently got excited about Pinterest. My wife put together a great board for her debut novel, that is being published in July. I had a small set of pictures related to Darklight, so I took the plunge and signed up. To the right is a link to my board. I had a couple images based on my thoughts. But most of all, I spotted a woman decked out with a style that perfectly looked like the Snitch I have been writing about since 2010. Enjoy!

Follow Greg’s board Darklight on Pinterest.

If you’re interested, be sure to sign up for the Darklight newsletter.

It happened just like this…

Last night’s night’s writing prompt:

* * *

Manager dropped the problem in my lap. I look up at my screen start typing. Hmm. How do you do that? I look over at my book shelf. My finger runs across the six books I have. I fish one out, flip to the chapter that has that stuff, and spot the nugget of code I need. Problem solved. Next day, I run into a weird issue. Trying to remember the function, I scan my repertoire of books. None of them cover that. Scratch that. I need to stop by the book store and get another one. Imagine that process day after day for some time. Then suddenly, this new website pops up. I hear people in the hallway chatting about it. “What the heck is a Google?” someone asks. I go back to my desk and type google.com. This plain old white page with the word “Google” appears at the top with an empty box in the middle of the screen. What is this? Why is everyone talking about this? I type in “array comprehension” and the Python reference manual pops up with a dozen links to blog articles showing how to use it. The next day, I find myself constatntly pulling it up. Nothing will be the same again.

World building can be a bugbear

medieval-townIt’s always entertaining to see how different authors handle world building. In case you didn’t know, any story needs to paint a backdrop. The closer the world is to our own, the easier this can be. Adventures on alien planets with alien beings wielding alien artifacts can be the worse.

I have been reading The End of Eternity the past few days by Isaac Asimov. It’s one of his titles that isn’t so well known, and hence never found in bookstores. It is only in this digital era that I stopped to buy an e-book version. The story is incredible. The world is very different, but as always, Asimov paints just enough world to pull me in. And he leaves just enough out to surprise me along the way.

Fantasy books often dig into this arena. The risk is that by slowing down to describe the physical surroundings, the rules of magic, the history of the people, and everything else, you will slow down the action of your story. In an interview with George Lucas, he clearly fires a shot at prior science fiction movies as wasting too much time “showing off” their world. After hearing this, I’m convinced he was thinking directly about 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001In that movie, they clearly show off the future when a space-aged flight attendant walks around with velcro shoes, when a ship does the “waltz” of aligning itself with the landing platform, and when Dave Bowman runs through the centrifuge of the ship to exercise. These bits did little to advance the story, but instead focus on world building. Us geeks dig it, but when I talked my wife into watching this movie, she found it BO-RING!

Regarding Darklight, I have a detailed collection of notes with the backstory of every character. I have a detailed history of where this world came from, where the relics and magic come from. And how these things are intertwined with each other. But I can’t just lay it in the reader’s lap. Instead, it is up to me to release bits and pieces at the right spots, using the context and understanding of the characters at hand. This is truly a challenge and something I have edited MANY times. My goal is to have an exciting canvas to paint this story and many more across. I didn’t realize there were a couple dozen sub-gre

Happy writing!

Editing Darklight left and right

undergroundersIt is about three weeks from the Clarksville Writers Conference. My wife and I are signed up. As part of this endeavor, I have pledged to complete a top to bottom edit of Darklight.

It is tough. I have been writing this novel for about five years. The last big push was about two years ago when I finished it. I sent it out for feedback from a couple beta readers and slowly waited for comments. Since then, I haven’t been real active on processing it. First of all, I got engaged in writing Learning Spring Boot, which took a big bite out of everything. Next, editing can be real boring. You aren’t creating but instead polishing.

Well, I finally got things in gear when the Clarksville Christian Writers group was formed several months ago. We’ve been meeting weekly and it has been a fantastic opportunity to critique each other’s work. I hunkered down and started editing one scene at a time. And I realized how dreadful some of my writing was! I have gotten a lot smarter on POV, show-don’t-tell, simplified tenses, and the overuse of adverbs. What seemed challenging to notice before now stands out like a sore thumb.

I have been hacking away at my story, but then decided I wanted a polished up manuscript to take it to the conference in case an opportunity presents itself. At the time, I was on page 30 of a 122-page manuscript. The math didn’t line up, so I have stayed up late almost every night to knock out 3-5 pages. Last night, I hit page 66. Still don’t know if I can make it, but I sure am punching a bigger hole in this problem. I feel like every scene gets tightened up and more compelling. I have boiled away words without losing the meaning. Side effect: better. Much better.

Happy writing!

We won’t own our own information until we do

Not a week goes by when I hear some story about people displeased with how their own content has been misused. People gripe that entering stuff into Facebook no longer belongs to them. Other people copy-and-paste such stuff into other places. Things go “viral”.

I chuckle at how so many politicians act like we are still in a pre-YouTube era. They say and do stupid things in front of small crowds. Someone inevitably grabs a clip with their phone, posts it to YouTube, and it blazes across the twittersphere. Or someone makes an accusation or promise, and in minutes, a video interview from fifteen years surfaces and gets re-posted to the interwebs.

The truth is, there should be some sense of ownership of our content. If I post something, somewhere, I understand people’s desire to hold onto it and have the last word. Unless you speak it in front of someone else, and they make an independent copy, it makes sense that you should be able to effectively delete your posting. What you said and the repercussions thereof are your own issue to deal with.

The truth is, we can’t “own” anything we write anywhere unless we can wrap it using encryption technology. Essentially, if every blurb you posted was an encrypted bundle, people would have to come to you to decrypt and read it. Throw away the key, and that blurb is gone forever. For certain avenues, like everything I write on Facebook, I can understand retaining a hold on it. And if someone wanted to copy-and-paste it, it would be really nice is the encryption traveled with it. Copy it 1000 times, as long as the wrapper is in place, and you still control it.

But there in lies the rub. Encryption technology has proven far too difficult for mass consumer adoption. Just now, the web is headed towards moving all web traffic from HTTP to HTTPS to prevent intermediate snooping. This should have happened years ago. But the next big leap would be encrypting all email traffic. With people losing laptops and thumbdrives, lots of security breaches have happened. If ALL email was wrapped in encryption, privacy would be a much stronger concept. But the process of doing that is arduous. Exchanging keys, keeping your private key secure, and then entering passphrases all the time is a hassle.

Take that concept and apply it to every other medium in which you write something. Even this blog entry! It’s safe to say, such a concept won’t come to pass until it becomes effortless to prove on a terminal you are who you say you are, and to lock and unlock keys suitably. Seeing the web move to SSL is a good sign. I just hope we can migrate along these paths faster than we can figure out to integrate stuff together smoother. We must own the pipes and the traffic our data rides along.

I woke up alone in the middle of the woods with only this note…

Last night’s writing prompt:

***

You have made a grave mistake. And this is your punishment. You will find up ahead nothing more than a small cabin. Enter it, and you will discover a rug. Move the rug and you will see a trap door. Open the trap door and enter. Because that is the only way you can find everything needed to discover your way home. There may be challenges. There may be danger. Don’t believe everything you hear or see. If you don’t make it, then justice will have been served. But if you can surmount all the obstacles and find twenty treasures, you will have redeemed yourself. You will be granted freedom to leave this wretched place. Good luck.

–the Zork tribunal

Today is “Day against DRM”. My fine friends @PacktPub are offering a 24-hour flash sale. #AgainstDRM

I have written three books for Packt Publishing over the past five years (Learning Spring Boot being the latest). They have supported me well. Many of you are aware of DRM (Digital Rights Management). That is coder speak for “wrapping content you bought with controls left in the hands of supplies”. I don’t dig DRM. I cheered it when free market competition brought out DRM-free music from certain vendors.

I believe in paying for content to support creators, but also having the freedom to put content I purchased on any of my devices. It’s another reason I like Packt. Their e-books have been DRM-free since Day 1 (2004). That is über cool.

Whereas I would leap for joy if you bought a copy of my book, I sincerely ask that you search their vast list of titles and pick out something you enjoy.

Happy reading!2015 Banner