Reading: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved this book. Neil Gaiman is so skilled at crafting a fantasy story and giving his reader just enough of the details via such beautiful, literary language that you manage to sustain a sense of wonder throughout even through the ending. The mysteries in the book didn’t leave me wanting more explanation, but rather made me think about the themes in the novel — growing up, the subjective view each individual has of the world, and more.

The book reminded me a bit of the Discworld “witches” novels of Terry Pratchett, or some of the fantastic-realism novels of Tim Powers.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel:
“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

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Reading: “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You”

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About YouSnoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is meant to teach you how to learn about people from snooping through their rooms, but it’s also a bounty for social media marketers or writers.

If your job is in social media, in reading the tea leaves of activity people leave on their profiles, this will give you a handy framework for knowing what’s relevant and how to place a particular piece of detail you learn about someone.

Fiction writers can use the book in reverse — learning how to apply the psychological principles presented to craft an interesting, realistic character. The proof is in the details, and this book will help you understand how to create the layers of detail and description that make up a real person.

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‘Star Wars 1313′ Is The Live Action Series

I was watching a presentation at Star Wars Celebration VI about the new Star Wars game, Star Wars 1313. It was a pretty impressive tech demo. The game is rendering the world in real time, so that, during the demo where the ship is falling towards the lower levels of Coruscant, they could pause the game and zoom in to the freckles on a character’s face in amazing detail. The game renders, at least on the PC hardware they were running it on (which they wouldn’t reveal) at least as good as most CG in movies today.

The presenters also showed a video about how this game came about as a collaboration between ILM and LucasArts — the idea being that movie animators could create a method to render a movie scene in a video game. No complicated animation that needed to be rendered out overnight via a small city of servers. Just create your objects and let the engine (in this case a highly modified version of the Unreal 3 engine) churn out the action.

That’s when it hit me. This is the holy grail, right? This is the economy of scale that George Lucas is looking for to produce the live-action Star Wars series we’ve all been waiting for.

Then, with that clarity you have when all the edge pieces of a puzzle have been filled in, I began to see the similarities to the rumored Underworld TV series. Star Wars 1313 and Star Wars: Underworld started to sound astoundingly similar. They even mentioned on the panel that the player character in the demo was a placeholder for the main character who they weren’t ready to reveal yet.

My credits are on this game being some incarnation of the TV series, and the TV series being the same story line.

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Carbon Freeze Me!

This will be one of my last blog entries as my days of jetting around the galaxy smuggling Jar Jar action figures to France finally caught up with me today as I was captured, accused of crimes against the Empire, and frozen in carbonite.

Against all odds, the carbon freezing facility is located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

My wife has thoughtfully recorded some pictures of the freezing process, as well as a video of the final results to share with you all. At some point, when they drop the slab…errr…me off, she’ll be able to post a photo of that, too. Hopefully I’ll get unfrozen in 200 years or so for good behavior, although when I don’t have much to do, my mind does tend to wander to thoughts of Twi’lek dancing girls and Slave Leias.

See the photos on Google+

Keith in the carbon freezing chamber.

Video of the final results of my carbon freeze.

Edit 07/09/2012:

You can see pics of the final result in the Google+ album. It’s actually a very nice resemblance. The slab itself was pretty dusty, though. Going to have to give it a nice soft brush off.

Oh my! They’ve encased me in carbonite. I should be quite well protected…if I survived the freezing process.

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Reading: How We Decide

It’s that inevitable moment in the car, again. My wife and I are sitting there, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, just a little past the peak of hunger, and I am about to turn the key. We both know what’s going to happen, but the question is who is going to ask it first.

“Where shall we have lunch?”

Why is that question so vexing? A million thoughts come to mind, and some are even delicious. But…I can’t settle on one. This one is a little expensive. That one’s a little too far. Do we have coupons for that other place?

How We DecideHow We Decide may very well help me with my dilemma. The author, Jonah Lehrer, provides vivid examples of the decision-making process, from why people take out a sub-prime loan to how airline pilots land a plane they can no longer steer, and explains the neuroscience behind good decisions and bad ones. I feel more capable of investing in the stock market thanks to this book, which is more than I can say for most finance books I’ve read. The book makes me think about thinking, and that can be a very good thing.

I most enjoyed reading about the rational brain versus the emotional brain. I tend to try to be a rational decider. Before I bought a dishwasher, I spent hours poring over the interactive charts on consumer sites. I read endless reviews. I compared prices. This had to be the best way to make a decision. And yet, in the end, I still struggled with which dishwasher to buy.

How We Decide points out something I had missed. We humans are emotional deciders. The grandest circuitry in our brain is tied tightly with our emotional state. I should have learned this from years of watching Star Trek certainly — Kirk would get the technobabble details from Spock, but in the end, he’d go with his gut. That’s not to put down the value of the rational mind, the scientific approach; it’s a necessary and powerful tool in the decision-making process, especially when you’re making an emotion-wrought decision. As Lehrer says,“The rational brain can’t silence emotions, but it can help figure out which ones should be followed.”

Best of all, there’s a final chapter that outlines how to use the tools at your disposal to make decisions, a fantastic guide to what you should take from the book.

So, if you find yourself sitting in the driveway, trying to decide where to have lunch, go to the bookstore instead.

 

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Diablo 3 Beta

Played just a bit of the Diablo 3 open beta this weekend.

It’s Diablo 2, except prettier and more interactive. I like it. I don’t really expect to play it much, because I’m too busy with Star Wars: The Old Republic. But if you liked Diablo 2, it’s worth a look.

Diablo 3 Beta

 

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Kindle Touch – Unable To Start Application

Had an issue with my Kindle Touch today where anytime I tried to activate certain applications (like, for instance, the Special Offers app), I’d receive an error message that said “Unable to Start Application”. Since there was an awesome deal to get an award-winning book from a selection of books for $1, I spent some Google-juice figuring out how to fix it.

Keith and his beloved Kindle Touch

Oh, Kindle....why are you tasking me?

Turns out, there’s a way to reboot the Kindle Touch beyond holding the power button down till it blinks (which evidently is a fake reboot).

To hard reboot the Kindle Touch:

Press the Menu button. Press Settings. After the Settings menu appears, press the Menu button again. Then press Restart.

If your Kindle is particularly depressed and you can’t get to the Menu, try holding down the power button to fake reboot, then try again. You could also try resetting to factory default — although it always pains me greatly to have to do that to a device.

Hopefully, this is just a firmware problem that will be fixed in the next go-round.

 

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Top 7 of 2011

A quick recap of my highlights of 2011, in no particular order…

New Yard

We blew the big bucks from savings, tore up the weeds that had been pretending to be a lawn and had a landscaper (EWG Dirt Cheap) come in and create something native, environmentally responsible, and easier to take care of. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

  

 

Losing Weight

This is another case where the pics could speak for themselves, but I want to add that Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It and Good Calories, Bad Calories were a huge inspiration to me, since they talked loud science over the chattering of all the weight-loss pundits trying to sell me cardboard shakes and awkward spring-loaded pulley machines.

 

I feel better and I find it easier to control what I eat. More, I learned to skip the health article headlines and dig deeper into the results to figure out what the latest scientific study is really trying to tell me.

Disney Anniversary Party

My wife, Natasha, celebrated her 20th anniversary of working for Disney this year. We’ve been to a few of the big anniversary parties over the years as guests of my parents, and they were lavish affairs with great food, but they always felt kind of big-company stodgy.

This year’s party seemed to be created entirely with us in mind. Apologies to the rest of you that had to attend our destiny. Held in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (nee Disney-MGM Studios), our “home” park over the years. The triumphant return of the blisteringly brilliant Adventurers Club cast (as well as the rest of the Pleasure Island cast). A massive fireworks show. Free drinks, colonel! It took me back to the heady, Eisnerized Disney Decade around the time we started.

 

Ultimately, Natasha had a wonderful time and I was happy to come along for the ride highlighting the best of our time there. I’m hoping for a similar experience when I turn 20 in mouse years next year.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

I would have been excited about the reboot of the Star Wars ride at Disney regardless, but it came with so many bonus prizes! My buddy, Bree Starlighter, made it big as the intergalactic PR princess for the Star Tours company.

Star Wars Weekends, which I had been worrying would go the way of every Death Star, absolutely jumped to hyperspace this year.

Anthony Daniels performed a heartfelt one man/one droid show about the wonderful blessing it is to be See-Threepio.

James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan from The Clone Wars) rocked his own stage show that managed not only to show off his own incredible talent but to inspire the audience to find its own.

 

All that, and did I mention the attraction is awesome, too?

(Side note: if you’re not watching The Clone Wars and you say you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re not…really…)

Ships and Dip 4

You know it’s going to be an absolutely incredible cruise when you get back from the lifeboat drill and there are spaces in the front row of the sail-away concert just waiting for you.

It only got better when I got stopped by Mike Evin, who recognized me from my Facebook page and wanted to thank me for all the nice posts about him. (Seriously, if you’re not listening to Mike’s music, you’re missing out. And definitely get the chance to see a live show – Mike is an awesome performer whose musical passion just reaches out and grabs the audience.) If only I would have remembered to get my picture taken with him! I guess I was a little bit star-struck.

Now, when do I sign up for the next one?

Being Part-time

Back in August of 2010, after much personal deliberation and discussion with Natasha (which, for her part, was mostly, “Really, you need to do this”) I decided to go part-time at my “real” job and spend some time rediscovering bits and pieces of myself that had been missing for a while, subsumed by corporate culture and technology. I started work on a novel. I stopped working on said novel to struggle through a short story. I completed a draft of possibly the worst science fiction novel ever written during National Novel Writing Month. I rediscovered the joy of making things in my brain, and I keep learning every day about the things that hold me back and how to kick them to the curb. I am so lucky to be able to do this, and I am looking forward to my future.

Great wishes for all of you! Hope you have a wonderful 2012 and find all the things you’re looking for…

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Seven Things I Learned from National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo)

This year, for the first time, I was a winner…a winner of National Novel Writing Month. I wrote a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. I wouldn’t call it a novel. It’s kind of messy. It’s the kind of things some writers refer to as a discovery draft. But I’m still pretty satisfied with my accomplishment. Sure, my manuscript is a lot like that bent over stick of a Christmas tree that Charlie Brown had in his eponymous TV special, but I did it. And on the way, just like Charlie, I learned some things.

cbtree

1. Writing is Work

Let’s say it again, together…writing is WORK. It’s not art. You don’t sit around staring into space, waiting for inspiration until suddenly the muse comes along and writes the pages for you. You sit down and pound out horrible words. If you’re not typing or scribbling, you’re not writing. It’s also not writing down ideas about what you would write in a notebook, which I used to do a lot. It’s writing those ideas as scenes in their horrible Frankenstein-ed-ness. Which brings me to point 2.

2. Word Count is King

It’s not about how good the words are, it’s about that you finished them. It’s not going to come out better later. You’re not going to have that sudden, brilliant inspiration. The hole gets dug by getting out the shovel and sweating. And you know what…

3. The More You Write, The Easier It Gets

When I started, I would piddle around, check my email and various social networks, wander the Internet looking for inspiration, do just about anything to avoid actually starting. By the mid-point, when I sat down, I found it really easy to start cranking out words, because it started to cease to matter that they be perfect. Exercise is the same way for me – as long as I keep doing it, I find it easy to keep doing it. But when I stop for a day or two, it starts to feel less good, and I have to remind myself how good I feel when I finish for me to really want to get started again.

4. We’ll Fix It In Post

But what’s the point of pounding the keyboard like an infinite number of monkeys, hoping to churn out Shakespeare accidentally, if all I have to show for it, in the end, is a lousy discovery draft? Have you ever watched the bonus content that comes with a movie? A movie isn’t created when the scriptwriter writes the screenplay. A movie isn’t created by actors speaking lines in front of the cameras. A movie is mostly created in the editing room, where all of the pieces come together. Same thing with a book. The discovery draft is your screenplay, your outline. As you move forward, each draft is another step where you shape and improve. Writing isn’t really about writing…it’s about editing.

5. Writing Takes Time

I kept thinking 2,000 or so words a day wouldn’t take long. Ultimately, it ended up taking me about 45 minutes on the best days. You do the math…I’m a writer. A real novel is going to take several drafts and usually be longer than 50,000 words. A novel takes a while to finish, and I’m finding, personally, I get bored with it after a while, worn out from running the course. Like a marathon runner, I think I need to train with shorter things. I think I’m going to work on some short stories, so I can have something I finished, and I shipped.

6. Planning / Outlining Is A Good Place To Start

This one’s controversial, but I found for me, I had easier writing days when I had thought about the shape the story needed to take. Some writers say they don’t do this, but I suspect they do – they just do it in their drafting process. For me, I found that if I took a couple of minutes during the day, I could write down exactly the things that needed to happen next. It’s a story – it has a certain, predictable shape, which is why we all enjoy guessing where a story is going next. When I took the time to just write down a couple of sentences during the day about where the next 2,000 words were going, I found it a lot easier to write them later.

7. Deadlines Are The Greatest Thing Ever

I never would have finished my Nanowrimo manuscript if I didn’t take the deadlines seriously. Like Douglas Adams’ famous quote – “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” But I took Nanowrimo seriously, and it paid off. I found time to write when normally I would have insisted I didn’t have time or I was too tired or that TV show required all of my attention. And in the end, I finished. FINISHED! Something I think we all need more of in our lives – the satisfaction of completion.

cbtree2

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Dave and Buster’s

Natasha and I checked out the new Dave and Buster’s gaming restaurant last Saturday afternoon. If you’re looking for something air conditioned to do on a hot, steamy afternoon in Orlando (for about $25 a person or so) it’s not a bad stop.

Dave and Buster’s is basically the giant collision of a restaurant/bar, a video arcade, and the Jersey shore. The food there is about Chili’s level – not bad, not spectacular. I thought my build your own chicken tacos was pretty good; Natasha found her fried shrimp to be about equivalent to dive bar food. I haven’t sampled the specialty booze yet, but given the number of variations on the Long Island Iced Tea available, I will definitely be visiting during happy hour at some point. Service was fast and good.

The bar has some rather innovative tables that have beer taps built in. You get to pay before you pump so you can set your limit. Seems party friendly, if you ask me.

The gaming area has a collection of the expected coin-op games, basketball hoop things, and skeeball mashed up with a lot of gambling-lite type things like coin drops and variations on roulette type things. The prices on the games vary, but our $12 each basically bought us about an hour of gaming. Other than the arcade games, most everything you play earns you tickets based on your success, which you can redeem for prizes.

I have fond memories of playing coin drops at my school carnival and the Jersey Shore. A lawyer friend of my grandmother taught me how to win at the quarter drops. (Yes, lawyers always know how to drain the most money out of anything.) He advised me that if you put the quarters in your mouth and got them nice and wet and sticky before you dropped them in the machine, they tended to stick better to the platform in the machine and the other coins and wouldn’t slide on top of the other coins quite as much. Gross, yes, but I ended up winning $50 (and putting most of it back) at the carnival. (My first gambling lesson learned.) Unfortunately, as an adult, I didn’t really feel comfortable putting Dave and Buster’s coins in my mouth. Damn maturity!

In the end, if you’re not into playing some games and getting rewarded with some candy or a wicker finger trap, D&B isn’t for you. But for a date night or some time out with the kids, it’s a fun stop.

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