jmadigan.net

30Nov/03Off

Thanksgiving

We just got back from our Thanksgiving vacation. Ger flew to St. Louis for baby showers (see the pregnancy update below) and I followed on Wednesday. Ger and her parents picked me up at the airport and we drove straight out to their country place called "The Farm".

I love The Farm. It's a large plot of land near St. James, Missouri (about an hour and a half outside of St. Louis), owned by Ger's family (mainly her parents and her aunt/uncle). They have three small houses near a man-made lake that's probably about 400 feet across at its widest point. There's a beach and a fishing pier on the lake, both of which look out on a small island and diving platform. In the summer, everyone swims, fishes, or goes boating if they're down at the water, else they sit in the barn and enjoy happy hour, which starts around noon and lasts until dinner.

In November, though, it's cold and you just get to enjoy the view (which is quite beautiful) or walk along the beaten path running around the parameter of the lake. Still, I love going to The Farm for Thanksgiving, as we do every other year (alternate years are spent with my family in Tulsa). I like walking around the lake, and I like visiting with the family. When I'm not doing one of those two things, I get a heck of a lot of reading done. I finished three books this last trip.

Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family is also great. Thanksgiving with my family is an equally enjoyable, but on a much more intimate scale. With Ger's family, it's pure Americana. There's usually a couple dozen people crowded around makeshift tables, passing giant plates of home-cooked food and telling each other who made what dish. Dogs run in and out of the house, as do children. Everybody talks VERY LOUDLY, and we all eat until we're about to barf. Then we have pie.

I'll tell you, Norman Rockwell couldn't paint a better picture with his best brushes.

This year, though, we only stayed at The Farm until Friday afternoon. We came back and had dinner Saturday night with my friend from graduate school, Gary Hunt. His fiance Jennifer also joined us, and we had an awesome meal at Charlie Gitto's on the Hill. We scoped out Gary's new house near St. Louis Hills, which was very nice. Can't wait for their wedding next June.

At any rate, we're back and we had a dandy time. With the baby on the way we won't get to travel for Christmas, but Ger's parents are coming to pay us a visit instead. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving as well.

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30Nov/03Off

Pregnancy Update: Week 31

We had a bit more eventful pregnancy this week, and it's all good. As I mentioned before, Geralyn flew to St. Louis early for a couple of baby showers around Thanksgiving. We brought one huge suitcase filled with nothing but baby booty! There were burp cloths, a mobile, booties, sleepers, caps, books, stuffed animals, blankets, video tapes, hand puppets, bath robes, several outfits, a quilt, a two-way monitor, receiving blankets, a check, a rubber duckie, a boppy pillow (don't ask), a rattle, bibs, and a few gift certificates. And, my family had already sent us a nice glider and a Diaper Champ.
Samantha thanks you all! Her nursery is quickly filling up with many fuzzy and/or soft things. Ger took pictures of the showers, and we'll be posting them shortly.
The flight was uneventful, as I had hoped. Geralyn found out that visibly pregnant women get different, better treatment when going through security. They waved her over and did a quick, efficient, manual search so that she wouldn't have to go through the metal detector like the rest of us cattle. Baby handled the flight just fine.
The other amazing thing is that we noticed that we can now see the baby moving. As in, she kicks so hard you can see Ger's tummy move. Wow. I'm told that in another few weeks we'll be able to make out specific body parts, like feet, hands, elbows, and head.
Here's Geralyn's picture for the week, which we had to take at her parents' house in St. Louis:

26Nov/03Off

Stupid geniuses

I recently started listening to John Kennedy Tool's A Confederacy of Dunces on CD. So far it's fascinating, due maily to its singular main character, Ignatius J. Reilly. He is an idiot with a huge vocabulary, a severely stupid and beligerant man who spews colorful invictives at everyone he meets and sits in his dank bedroom spinning masterful works of fallacy and philosophy with only a pencil and stacks of Big Chief notebook paper. He's the kind of guy who will spend thousands of words telling you why you're a complete twit, yet in the end (and the middle, and the beginning) the irony is that his arguments, no matter how eloquent, are so ridiculous that he is the one who comes across as a half-wit.
I know his kind. They're everywhere on the Internet.
That's probably why I find Ignatius so fascinating. It's also probably why I dislike him so much, despite Tool's efforts to make the reader sympathetic. Open just about any gaming site messageboard and you'll spot the Ignaciuses of the virtual world. Most lack his impressive diction or vigorous linguistic prowess, but the sentiment is the same: I'm right, you're wrong, and your mere existence is an outrageous audacity that clamps my anus shut.
Some people in the gaming scene have even made a reputation for themselves impersonating Ignacius. The infamous Derek Smart is one. I also found an interesting thread on a website called "Quarter to Three" that linked to this article from a guy named Scott Wolf trying to get work at PC Gamer as a freelancer.
Wolf reprints an e-mail exchange between himself and PC Gamer's Editor-In-Chief, Jeff Green. It's great right off the bat:

Hi Jeff,
Scott Wolf here, late of PC Gamer, Computer Game Entertainment, Voodoo, etc.. I stumbled across the latest issue of CGW in a Walgreens the other day, literally amazed because I haven't seen CGW (or PCG for that matter) on the newsstands in so long that I assumed they'd both since ceased print publication.
Anyway, I read your column about losing Scooter and Di and I wondered if perhaps it was time for me to come aboard, seeing as how CGW is the only PC Gaming mag I've never written for. I've been keeping busy by editing others and myself over at TotalWarfare.com where I've enjoyed the luxury of abandoning the whole concept of deadlines and the extreme luxury of being able to say whatever the **** I want with no fear of reprisal. I am, in fact, encouraged to raise as many hackles as possible.

Incredibly, Wolf goes on to tell the reader that "I was civil and respectful and made it clear that despite what's on display here I'm perfectly capable of behaving myself when necessary, and I settled back to wait patiently for a reply." The PC Gamer editor writes back in a huff, and hilarity ensues. Read them if you want a good laugh.
I swear, when I read these e-mails, it's Ignatius J. Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces" that I hear speaking in his deep New Orleans drawl. It's amazing. It baffles me how some people can demonstrate the intelligence to do things like create websites and write long-winded e-mails, then go on to prove that they are somehow fundamentally broken in the head by writing stuff like the above. They also fail to see (or fail to care if they do see) how others tug at their strings to make them dance their entertaining little dance. It's like watching a gifted ballerina, except she's projectile vomiting with every pirouette.
Anyway, I'm leaving in a few minutes for Thanksgiving in St. Louis. Have a good one yourself!

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22Nov/03Off

Done!

Well, I am now an unpublished novelist. Whee!
That's right, tonight I typed the final and 51,152nd word of my first novel, all as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project. The final word was "gurgle". I like that word.
As a reward, I got what I expected: nothing. Well, actually, the NaNoWriMo folks were kind enough to give me this certificate (click for a larger version):

...and this snazzy winner's graphic and forum icon:

The whole process was incredibly rewarding, though. In the beginning I set a goal of completing a 50,000 word novel in November, and I stuck to it. It wasn't easy at times and required a few sacrifices. I got up at 5:00 most weekday mornings so that I could squeeze in two hours of writing before going to work, and I spent a good chunk of my evenings and weekends as well. Here's a nifty chart I made of my progress (click to download the whole spreadsheet):

There's something really satisfying about knowing that you can do something difficult if you try hard enough. I feel kind of like I felt when I completed my comprehensive exams in graduate school (though to a much lesser degree).
Okay, enough self-congratulations. I'm going to break my arm patting myself on the back so hard.
My future plans for the novel are pretty simple. I'll probably leave it up on its page for the rest of November, then take it down. Why take it down? First, with the whole NaNoWriMo exercise behind me, I'm not really justified in celebrating something of its current quality. It's just not that good. Second, though, I plan on trying to make it better. I'm going to create a second draft, going chapter-by-chapter and publishing the book to this website as I go. I've put too much effort into this to not finish it off and try to share it with someone.
Will I try to get it published? We'll see how it turns out. If I think it's good enough, I may pursue it, but I don't have any delusions about my chances of success. We'll see.
In the meantime, I've rediscovered how much I like writing. When I was younger, I used to turn out all kinds of horrible dreck. I'm glad to have started again. I'll probably continue to do it, churning out some short stories next. I've set for myself a goal of getting either something published somewhere or getting a personalized rejection letter.
Wish me luck.

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22Nov/03Off

Pregnancy Update: Week 30

Well, not too much to report on this week. Nothing really happened. No bins full of discount plastic babies. No odd food cravings. No new construction on Baby's wing of the house. No foul-mouthed ultrasound technicians. A rather uneventful week, really.
Oh, this week's picture of Geralyn has been added to the gallery, though:

The pregnancy report for next week may be delayed, on account of our trip to St. Louis for Thanksgiving. None of Ger's family has seen her pregnant yet, so it should be a belly-rubbing good time. They're also throwing her a couple of showers, which should result in some "ph4t l3wt" for the baby, as the kids like to say.

20Nov/03Off

Ten Dumb Things

I spend a lot of time on Internet messageboards and e-mail listservs because I like getting opinions on things like games, books, and politics without having them go through the filters of "professional" media outlets. There's also details and insights on messageboards and e-mails that you only get from people passionately interested and educated on a particular topic.
That said, it's not always all that great. These boards and lists are magnets for nitwits, children, and zealots. So I either grin and bear it or move on to another source if the signal-to-noise ratio gets too bad. I've noticed, though, that these irritating antics often take the same form. Here's 10 dumb things that idiots do on messageboards, listservs, and newsgroups.
One: pigeon-holing
I see people assume after a few dozen words that they know enough about each other to apply broad labels like "liberal" or "fanboy". They usually go on to disparage them and attribute opinions on their basis, despite whatever the other person may or may not have said. This also tends to turn things into pointless and oversimplified "us vs. them" or "me vs. you" threads.
Two: Falling to the confirmatory information bias
Humans tend to ignore information that contradicts our assumptions and cling to information that supports it. I've seen people ignore scientific, widely replicated data (not to mention logic) because it contradicts what their friend once told them. A sample of one is bad statistics.
Three: Poor or unorthodox spelling/punctuation
All the l337 sp3ak gets to me. So does excessive punctuation and abuse of acronyms ("LOL!!!!!!" comes to mind). It makes you look stupid and incapable of expressing your meager thoughts. The people I listen to the most are the ones who take time to organize their responses and make them legible.
Four: Use of tired, trite, and unimaginative puns
I have a rule: I automatically stop reading a post when I come across the first use of a phrase like GaySpot, Micro$oft, VilePlanet, etc. Some think that replacing "S" with "$" is equivalent to making some biting social commentary and serves as evidence of their superior wit. No.
Five: Trolling for insults
For some, any attention is good attention and they'll do anything to get it. This could include baiting others into arguments, but most often it's just slinging insults and hoping for a counter-attack. It doesn't matter how dumb or socially retarded the troll looks; it's the attention that matters. So lonely.
Six: Spamming for post count
Some forums track how many posts you've made, and the inhabitants of these messageboards tend to use these numbers in establishing a pecking order. It's like digital penis waving. All the inane posts make the forums cluttered and off-topic.
Seven: Pointless railing against The Man
Some people seem to need something to fight against. They usually pick targets of convenience like successful businesses, community figures, or products. This kind of arbitrary iconoclasm leads to lots of "I hate Company X", even though Company X is just doing their job or may even make great products. It's only an opportunity for unity through hatred of an easily recognizable target. (That's not to say that some companies don't deserve the spite; I just suspect that their detractors' hatereds are often uninformed.)
Eight: Beating the dead horse
On gaming boards, everybody knows how to hate, and hating is easy. Do we really need to hear you celebrate the failure of that high-profile development house from six years ago? Not really.
Nine: Using obnoxious icons or signatures
Many users think they can become admired by using obnoxious, animated images as their icons and creating page-long signature files full of obscure quotes and more animated graphics. They also overuse animated smiley faces in the body of their psts. You can put a bonnet on a pig, but nobody's going want to kiss it.
Ten: Stereotyping
I'm not talking about overt racial or gender stereotyping here. The places I visit are free of that. Amazingly, though, people will still apply the same broken logic of bigotry by making unfounded overgeneralizations. All liberals are closet communists. All console gamers are simpletons. It's amazing that you'd get flamed for making stupid statements like "All Blacks are bad at math", but the same people have no compunctions about phrases like "all publishers are greedy" or "all Americans are arrogant." It's the same lazy thinking!
So anyway, I thought I'd vent my spleen a bit. It's getting harder and harder to find good places online to talk with mature, thoughtful people about topics that interest me. There are a few left, but I'm not going to tell you about them. I don't want word getting around. ;)

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15Nov/03Off

Pregnancy Update: Week 29

Holy carp! Week 29!
That pretty much sums it up. Fortunately, after cramming so much knowledge into our tiny skulls, I feel reasonably well educated on the fundamentals. Between the two of us, Geralyn and I have read a small, independent bookstore's worth of material on pregnancy and childbirth. So much so that I keep having daydreams about winning the International Scrabble Championship with words like vernix, colostrum, or perineum.
That said, Geralyn and I still don't feel totally prepared, so we decided to go ahead and seek sage wisdom from another person, preferably a mother. We attended our first baby education class Thursday night. It was held in a poorly ventilated but brightly lit classroom in the Sharp Mary Birch Hospital. The training was entitled "Baby Care Basics", so I expected us to graduate as perfect parents.
Before the class started we were issued dusty baby facsimiles from a huge bin. It was slightly unnerving to walk into a class on baby care and see them stuffed into bins like those big plastic balls at Wal-Mart. I named mine "Winifred" and found a spider in her clothes during the "dress your baby" exercise.
Let me sum up the evening with this: I now know more about poop than I thought possible. The teacher described the entire poop spectrum for us quite vividly. Now, I thought that was fine. That was the line, and although it was uncomfortable to walk up to the line, it was tolerable.
Then she put the movie in and the line zipped past me and over the horizon to my back.
Poop was everywhere and in every color of the rainbow. Oodles of offal. Droves of dung. Copious crap. Did you know that you can classify the stuff by color, consistency and odor? For a minute I thought they were talking about appraising diamonds. And you'd think there were precious gems buried in there the way the people in this video were handling the stuff.
The movie also featured frontal nudity, though the breastfeeding kind of put a damper on that.
Anyway, here's the new picture of Geralyn:

12Nov/03Off

NaNoWriMo BlogO

Last night, for the first time, I stumbled in my march towards finishing my NaNoWriMo project. I had to drive up to Los Angeles and back yesterday and I had to leave the house at 6:00 am to get there in time for a breakfast meeting. I didn't get home until 8:00 pm, and I was totally wiped. Even though I had used the 6 hours of silent drive time to brainstorm and play out scenes in my head, I never made it to the keyboard. I was asleep by 9:00, having written 0 words for the day.
Fortunately, I woke up refreshed at 5:00 this morning. I drove into work and banged out my daily word goal by 8:30. I plan to tap out another couple of thousand words tonight to make up for yesterday. And even if I don't I'm still ahead of schedule.
It's somewhat amusing to see the various reactions people take to NaNoWriMo. Some people (like myself) get excited by it and see it as an opportunity to do something fun. Others just say "WTF?" and wonder why we're so obsessed with word counts instead of taking as much time as we need to write something good. Others think we're fools for not just typing the word "SPAM" 50,000 times and "winning" the easy way. What these people fail to realize is that NaNoWriMo is what you make it. There's no "winning" since there's no tangible reward and the rules are so lax. It's just self-gratification and a sense of accomplishment in doing something difficult. Others also get a lot of satisfaction out of comisserating and celebrating alongside their fellow NaNo Novelists. I'm having fun, and may end up with something that's worth polishing up. Either way, I'll be better off than I was before.

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8Nov/03Off

Pregnancy Update: Week 28

Another week, more pregnancy news. Geralyn is doing fine, as you can see. We finally got the nursery/office work done, so I'll be putting up a photo gallery of that whole process soon. We started furnishing the nursery today, which involved putting the crib together, unpacking the glider and Diaper Champ (thanks Mom, Dad, Shawn, and Brent!), and installing some shelving in the closet. We won't paint or decorate until we get our crib quilt, sheets, etc. at Geralyn's shower later this month.
Want final confirmation that you're ready to be a parent? You'll know when you realize how excited you get over finding a whole website dedicated to frog bathroom decorations. Well, either that or you're gay. Myself, I'm decorating the bathroom, and it's going to be all froggies. Why? Because duckies are f'ing lame.

6Nov/03Off

NaNoWriMo a Go Go!

I'm going to run out of cute headlines soon.
National Novel Writing Month is progressing well for me. Even though it means getting up at 5:00 am to get in a couple hours' worth of writing each day, I'm having fun and feeling (ever so slightly) proud of the work I'm doing. That makes it a success, I think.
I do have to say that this is not the way that I would write a novel. It's too fast, too loose, and too unstructured. I long for more time not only to tweak, but to just sit and think about the story and specific scenes. I want to skim a book on riverboats. I want to think things through.
Instead, I just keep pushing in order to hit my word count goals without slowing down to polish or build really solid foundations. Knowing that is like having something stuck in your teeth and not stopping to pick it out. For a month.
On the other hand, the irony is that this apparently is the only way I'll write a novel. My long history of not writing novels before this bears me out. I hope, though, that because I'm enjoying this I'll not only rewrite this one January, but write more in general. I don't have (many) daydreams about getting published, but I could see myself doing this as a hobby. I used to. Maybe it will even supplant games.

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3Nov/03Off

NaNoWriMo No No!

Actually, my NaNoWriMo project is coming along better than I had hoped. I'm really starting to like my main characters, and more importantly I'm starting to like writing about them. I'm pretty much at the end of my premeditated material, though, so it's going to be mostly new stuff from now on out, minus an odd scene or two.
I don't really want to say too much about my novel yet, though. If you're really interested you can read for yourself. What's really interested me is some of the activity on the official NaNoWriMo forums. Now, being a gamer, I'm used to having my messageboards smeared with vitriol and served with a side of hate. It just seems normal that way.
The NaNoWriMo forums, on the other hand, seem very much abnormal to my callused sensibilities. People there are nice. They're friendly. They cheer each other on with kind words. It's weird.
That aside, I'm getting kind of addicted to them. It's fun to look the Character and Plot Realism Q&A board, for example, and spend some time answering random questions that I may happen to know the answers to. Questions like "What's a good euphemism for 'whore'?" or "What kind of liquor would a teenage boy go for?" or even "How do slide rules work?".
It's also fun to poke through the other forums looking for advice on writing. Notice I said "fun" and not "educational". Some of what people advise is shockingly bad, yet they say it with the virtual air of a learned college professor (which is interesting, since I'm convinced many of my college professors didn't know what the hell they were talking about, either).
One fellow, for example, insisted that it was important to avoid overuse of the word "said". As in "he said" or "she said". Better to swap in some flashier, sexier, MTV-approved verbs like "exclaimed" or "questioned" or "vocalized". (This is, actually, contrary to every other piece of good advice, my own experience as a reader, and my own simian judgement).
Another would-be sage suggested that having characters constantly say each others' names would give you a healthy boost towards that 50,000 word goal. I imagine her novel will be filled with phrases like "Get the door, Barry." "I can't, Julie, my hands are full." "Here, I'll hold the milk, Barry." "Thanks, Julie."
Others suggested that if you don't have an original bone in your body you can still achieve literary greatness by writing fan fiction (that is, taking characters from a TV show, movie, or another book and using them in your story). Apparently, Buffy's having sex with Xena: Warrior Princess qualifies as "making the characters your own."
Amusing as it all is, though, I find it quite comforting. There are also plenty of sensible people on the forums, people with the patience of saints and the demeanor to match. And while some of the novel excerpts I've read are pretty good, most of them are just as amateurish as mine. It's just friendly people enjoying themselves and stretching their boundaries. That's fun, and it's all good.

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1Nov/03Off

Pregnancy Update: Week 27

Week number 27. Not much to report on this week, but there's a new picture added to the pregnancy photo album. Ger is still doing well, other than some very swollen feet. Foot, actually. Just her left one, but it's puffed up like a five-toed sausage. I'm not kidding; it's really huge if she stays upright for too long. I'd put up a photo, but I don't have a wide-angle lens for the camera.
The only other thing on the horizon is her doctor's visit next week. She gets to drink some sickly sweet potion in preparation for a test designed to detect gestational diabetes. Then she gets stuck by a needle. Other than the needle-potion business, it's pretty routine and I'll let you know how it turns out.

1Nov/03Off

Hemingway is a Wuss

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has started! I'm participating this year, and just got done with my writing session for today. As I said before, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I sait down with trepidation this morning. I had thought about my project a lot, but wasn't sure how easily the words would come. I'm a very fast writer in general --I can bang out technical reports very quickly-- but I haven't written fiction in over 10 years. I wasn't sure how quickly the words would come.
A few hours later, I'm 4,194 words towards the 50,000 mark. They came pretty easily after all.
Of course, this is early. I'm writing scenes that I've played out in my head. I'm going to have to start slowing down to think new material out more. But it's a good start. If you're interested, I've created a section for my NaNoWriMo project. You can see my progress and even download daily updates of the novel in progress. Don't know why you'd want to do such a thing, but you're welcome to it. Any constructive feedback is always welcome.

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