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Writing News (bug edition)

1. My story “Kalar’s Wall”–full of magic and giant beetles–is out in issue 8 of Plasma Frequency in print and various ebook formats.

I bet Kalar wouldn’t like our huge Midwestern crickets any more than I do.

2. I got an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest on a story featuring giant space-faring crustaceans. Still a rejection, but it’s nice to know someone other than me found at least some good in the story. And now I can send it out to other markets.

3. In arthropod-free news, I’m now a slush reader for Flash Fiction Online. For the non-writers among you, that means I get to read the stories people submit and help decide whether to accept them. I did this at another magazine a while ago and am excited to get back to it, especially at a market that I enjoy reading.

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Great class: Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets

I’m halfway through a Coursera class called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets.” This is by far the best class I’ve taken on the platform. It’s not just the material–I’d expected archaeology to be way more interesting than, say, business. But the team at Brown clearly put a lot of thought and effort into producing the course.

The professor, Sue Alcock, is very energetic, and the course would be great even if she were the only person who ever appears in the videos. But each week, she interviews three people with projects in different parts of the world (and a fourth person interviews her) about whatever that week’s topic is. Other people also help out with demonstrations (most recently, sorting pottery). A couple classes I’ve taken previously also brought in guest speakers, but they weren’t as tightly integrated into the content. And speaking of demonstrations, that’s something new to me in these online classes.

Even the homework is fun. The weekly multiple choice/true-false quizzes aren’t anything to get excited about, but each week there is a more involved assignment. Topics have ranged from examining items in your house/office/whatever, to exploring sites using satellite photos, to writing in cuneiform.

This is the first class I’ve taken where the online course format has added significant value, over something like a good textbook, to the content. The other students seem to like the class too-the forums seem to have far fewer complaints and whines than usual.

The only downside is that the next few classes I take are going to have a hard time measuring up.

I also wonder what Brown is getting out of it. It’s a lot of effort to go to just for good publicity, and a big investment to make for a nebulous future when people start paying for MOOCs.


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Hello, Facebook?

My blog stopped automatically posting itself to Facebook a while ago. This is a test to see if I fixed it.

You have missed such exciting posts as:

On an unrelated note, someone found my blog by searching for “sewing classes chard”. If chard could sew, what would it create? Little quilts to protect itself from frost?

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The magnetic white board two years later

Almost two years ago, I painted a magnetic white board onto the wall of my office. I thought I’d give an update on how it’s fared: it’s fantastic.


You can see it’s pretty dirty–that’s because I haven’t cleaned it ever until this weekend (and then I only did part of it). It usually has notes of some sort on it–story plots, to do lists, in this case a list of things I might want to buy some day.

The paint that I bought recommended not making a magnetic white board (the suggest chalkboards), but it’s turned out quite well anyway. I should have sanded the wall down some more, or smoothed the paint in some other way. It works fine, but it’s harder to erase the spots that aren’t even because the eraser can’t get in there.

The only downside is that I only have one. I wish it were bigger, but I made it to fit the wall space that I had. When I’m plotting a novel or story, there isn’t room on the white board for anything else. I’m starting to think about my next novel, but first I have to diagram my vegetable garden.

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Testing something, nothing to see here.

See? Nothing’s here.

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I spent the weekend at ConFusion, hanging out with the group I call the Michigan people, which includes people who don’t currently live in Michigan and one person who I don’t think ever has.

I don’t like reading people’s con reports, so I’m not going to post one. I had fun; I went to panels; I talked with a bunch of people. I also got lots of sleep because I was still getting over a cold.

Now I’m back, and after one weekend sick and one weekend out of town I have a ton of stuff to catch up on. Someone commented that I do a lot of things, and that’s the problem: it goes smoothly until something comes up and then I’m behind on everything.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Or happy Monday, if you prefer. I’m not blogging today, so if you think you’re reading this, you might want to lay off the eggnog.

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In which I continue my quest for a simple way to track habits

About a year ago, I was looking for a habit-tracking app and never found a really good one. I wanted to make a list of 2-3 things I want to do every day, and check them off, without cluttering up my to do list or my calendar. For example: writing new words.

Maybe I was using the wrong keywords, or maybe tons of app developers secretly read my blog, because now there seem to be a lot of good apps. I’ve been playing with three of them.

Good Habits (free) – This is the simplest and cleanest. It displays how many days in a row you’ve done each thing, and your maximum days in a row. Clicking on the name of a habit opens the calendar, where you can edit past days and see a monthly view of which days you did that habit. You can also set reminders.

That’s it. It’s almost exactly what I want, though it’d be nice to include things I only want to do once a week.

Habit List ($1.99) – Not quite as pretty, but still nicely designed. It lets you set whether you want to do something every day, or on specific days of the week, or at a certain interval, or a certain number of days a week. That has the side effect of making me want to add more things to it, and it’s also a little confusing–my list for today includes everything that I’ve set to do only once or three times a week, so I see it on my list even if I don’t plan to do it today. (Setting something for a specific day like Friday makes it not show up unless it’s Friday, though.)

If you really need more specific habit scheduling than daily, this is a great app.

Habits Pro ($2.99) – This adds more features and is the only app I’ve tried that has an export option. In addition to a daily checklist or monthly calendar view, it shows graphs by day, week, and month. You can also change the item type–instead of a simple yes/no checklist, you can have a counter (how many times you did something), a timer (how long), or a note (where you can enter details about whatever, like what book you read instead of just checking off that you read something).

It’s a little clunky to use and not nearly as pretty as either of the other two apps, but definitely more flexible in what you can track.

So after this research, what am I going to use? Well, I printed out some calendars that I can tape in my journal, where I can see the whole year on one page. If I want to stick with something electronic (and I haven’t quite decided), probably Habit List until Good Habits adds flexible scheduling.

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Instapaper v Pocket: The Battle of the Tags

I don’t know how I would keep track of everything I want to read on the web without Instapaper. Well, I do know: badly. With bookmarks I would never remember to go back to.

The ability to save a blog post or an article to read later is fantastic. The ability to then read it without all the sidebar cruft is super-fantastic. The ability to categorize articles in folders is…not quite good enough for my purposes.

Web articles aren’t paper articles. I shouldn’t be limited to putting them into a single folder. I should be able to tag an article with “keep” and “to blog” and “buy this book” and “research for the slug story” all at once. [1]

Enter Pocket. Pocket has been getting a lot of attention this year, since it just rebranded and relaunched (it was formerly Read It Later). Unlike Instapaper, it has tags.

Tags lured me to try out Pocket with the idea of switching if I liked it better. Or at least as much. Unfortunately…all I like better is the tags.

Pocket paid a lot of attention to design, but I don’t want my reading app to have pretty colors and show me favicons from websites or pictures from blog posts. I want it to show me black and white words (or black and sepia words, or white and black words). Pocket also has made it impossible to delete an article from article view–after you’re done reading, you can either archive the article and then delete it from the archive later, or go back to the main article list and delete it there.

My main problem–the one that will keep me from fully switching away from Instapaper–is the inability to save articles by email. I really like being able to set up filters for the Daily Science Fiction emails or various email newsletters and have them automagially appear in Instapaper.

On the one hand that’s one feature out of several dozen. On the other hand it’s vital.

So now I’m using both apps. We’ll see what happens first: tags in Instapaper or emailing articles in Pocket.

[1] Instapaper’s FAQ points out that it isn’t designed to be a permanent storage system for articles. [2] But aside from tagging it works pretty well, and in some cases tagging is just a short way of saying “help me remember which of these many articles I need to read right away and which I can ignore for a while.”

[2] If Evernote did a better job with readable versions of stored web pages and offline access, I might move the creation of an Instapaper to Evernote workflow higher up my list of things to figure out. [3]

[3] I was already using IFTTT to put some things in Evernote, where I then never looked at them. (Maybe what I really need is an alternative to Evernote.)

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Civilization IV (because today isn’t Tuesday)

I forgot to write today’s blog post last night. I had the vague impression that despite yesterday being Tuesday, today was also Tuesday. (I’m pretty sure I learned the days of the week by first grade, but it hasn’t seemed to stick.)

Since I have no post, let’s talk about Civilization IV. A friend told me that it was only $4.99 in the Mac App store over the weekend (still is, if you want to be tempted). I had actually been planning on buying The Sims 3 soon, but Civilization is one of my all-time favorite games, so.

I did resist until I got a short story revised and sent off, but last night I decided I’d write for 5 minutes and then play Civ. After thus tricking myself into getting a lot more writing done than that, I played Civ until bedtime.

I haven’t played since Civ II, plus Revolution on the iPod (and a brief fling with the Facebook version, which I didn’t like at all). Things have changed since II. (Civ V, I think, is the latest version, and even that’s a couple years old. I bought IV because it was cheaper and good enough–the nice thing about not being into games is even the older ones are new to me.)

Graphics, of course, are much nicer, though since I’m not familiar with them yet I have to mouse over everything to see what it is instead of recognizing the pictures. The music is nice–probably the first game I haven’t immediately muted. The main theme won a Grammy last year.

They’ve added more ways to win (also included in Revolution to some extent) – it’s no longer a choice of taking over the world vs launching a spaceship, which I appreciate. Financial and cultural victories are more appealing to me than war. They’ve added a religious system that seems rather complicated but intriguing.

(Speaking of war, I wish it were optional. I’d love to be able to pursue my technological, cultural, and financial victories without worrying about being attacked. Racing other nations to build wonders is fine, but having to build armies just to defend myself from incessant attacks is tedious and boring.)

I haven’t gotten very far into it, just through the tutorial and the beginning of a game. I’ve already screwed up a ton of stuff due to not being familiar with the game any more, I’m being beaten up by barbarians (who are a lot more troublesome than they used to be) and the two nearest civs are both starting to pester me, so I might be giving up on this game soon and starting a new one. After I revise some chapters.

Anyone played Civ IV or V? What did you think?

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