Monday, 15 November 2010

For writers, a good use for all that e-mail spam

A tip for fellow writers:

I use Michael Tsai’s outstanding SpamSieve on my Mac to control e-mail spam. Based on the training I give the program, it actively and automagically sorts spam into a designated folder, leaving my inbox pristine and filled only with the e-mail I want to receive.

Now, what to do with all that spam collecting in that aforementioned designated folder?

Most folks would simply delete it all, and too bad if something found its way there that shouldn’t be. Some folks, myself included, would give it a quick going-over, to make sure their spam-filtering software hadn’t flagged a false positive: a “good” e-mail inadvertently labeled “bad”.

And an enterprising fiction writer would tap this new-found wealth for character names.

I mean, where else are you going to discover “Abdul Travis”? What a great name for a fictional character! (When I first saw that one, it sounded like something one would read in a William Gibson novel.)

So I created a new text document in BBEdit, gave it the oh-so-original title of “character names.txt”, and starting dumping in names from my spam e-mails.

I’m not sure how many pieces of spam I went through, or how long I did this, but the current document has 456 different names in it. And by virtue of receiving upwards of 5,000-plus spam e-mails a week, I always have a ready source for more names if I need them.

So skip those fancy character-naming programs, fiction writers. You’ve got a wealth of names right there in your e-mail client.

posted by retrophisch at 9:40 PM -->in helping , writing
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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Um, yeah

MacJournals News:

Expert Macintosh users who see “MacWorld” in an article know you don’t know what you’re talking about, just as most technology-literate readers would laugh at “MicroSoft,” “QualComm,” or “LexMark.” Referring to a famous technology event without the correct name or spelling is a quick way to throw away your credibility. Saying “That’s how I always thought it was spelled, and besides, everyone knew what I meant” is saying “I didn’t bother to get the facts about my subject before I wrote my article.” Don’t be that writer.

posted by retrophisch at 9:48 PM -->in Macintosh , quote , tech , writing
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Saturday, 28 June 2008

In The Back Yard

The dogs needed to go out.

No matter how much had changed, their routine was still the same. Before they ate their breakfast or dinner—they were only fed twice a day—they went out to take a piss. The little one would take a dump, too. Then it was back inside for the meal, then back outside so the big one could take his dump. Then back inside, where they both got a treat, usually a piece of ice, which they loved.

It worked in his favor now that long ago the two canines had learned to do their business in the back yard, without having to go for walks. The back yard was still protected by the fences, no section of which had yet to be pushed over. Then again, they hadn’t suffered a mass outbreak in their area yet, so there hadn’t been sufficient numbers to push over—or through, as he’d heard reports of—the fence.

His hand touched the SIG on his hip. It never left his side, yet he checked it all the same any time he was going to open the door to the house. It was his constant companion, because he never knew when he might have to use it. And he had had to use it. More than he cared to ever remember.

He picked up the Remington shotgun next to the back door. It was a nearly constant companion, and it had cousins at the front door, the door in to the garage, and in other rooms throughout the house. Because he never knew when he might have to use them. And he had had to use them.

He checked the breech, even though he knew there was a shell in there. He always kept the weapons loaded, with a round in the chamber, safety off, ready to go. Because you never knew when you might have to use them RIGHT NOW, when you wouldn’t have time to shove in a magazine, to pop in shells, to rack the slide.

He tested the flashlight mounted to the underside of the shotgun, confirming it still functioned flawlessly. It had been a worthwhile investment, having saved his hide more than once when stepping out in to the back yard with the dogs.

He lifted one of the blinds, peeking out in to the darkness lit by a pair of floodlights. The deck was empty. The playset was empty. Just as it had been for more than a year now. There was no longer anyone in the house to play on it.

He always peeked out. Just as he did out the front door, just as he did through the peep hole he’d cut in the big metal garage door. The dogs served as excellent early warning systems, but he always peeked just the same. You never knew.

“Let’s go boys,” he said to the mutts at his feet.

Hoisting the Remington to his shoulder, the muzzle canted down, he opened the door. The dogs squeezed past his legs, out on to the deck. They paused for a moment, sniffing the air. Then the larger, and older, of the two stepped off the deck on to the grass, sniffing the ground. The smaller one mulled about on the deck.

He walked outside and closed the door, listening to the falling night. A dog barked in the distance. It was about four blocks over, he knew. It was a dog that hadn’t learned yet, a dog that would be useless to its master in serving the function as early warning system. It was a distraction, and he wished it was kept inside.

He heard some shrieks of laughter, from kids. They should be going inside soon. He hoped their parents were at least checking on them regularly. The occasional auto passed by the main street nearby. Otherwise, it was quiet. Quiet was always good.

Not a zombie wail to be heard.

He walked around the yard, using the mounted flashlight to check the gates. It never hurt just to check. He still wasn’t sure how the three zombies he’d killed in the back yard over the last year had even gotten in. The undead really weren’t known for manipulation of objects, even simple ones like the gate latch.

He’d been really stupid about the first one. It had been something of a surprise; the zombie had gotten in to the back yard through the left-side gate, but then apparently had gotten confused. Or at least confused for a creature without higher-level brain functions. It just stayed in the corner by the gate, and when he’d made his sweep, it turned to face him.

It hadn’t been the first time he’d encountered an undead, but it was the closest he’d been to one yet, and it was the first one he’d put down himself. He’d been shocked, even scared. He’d nearly pissed his pants. But he managed to keep his composure long enough to line up the head in the Remington’s ghost ring and put the slug round through it. He called the disposal hotline before puking in the back corner of the yard, by the telephone junction box.

“First zombie kill?” one of the disposal techs had asked him as he sat in one of the deck chairs, shotgun across his lap, wiping his mouth for the umpteenth time. He’d only nodded, not looking at his questioner.

The tech, to his credit, hadn’t pushed it farther than that. He’d merely nodded and gone back to his work, which included dousing the part of the yard where zombie splatter had sprayed. “You’re going to lose the grass in this section,” the tech told him. He’d merely nodded in reply as the tech dropped a match.

The disposal squad was efficient, and nicely so, considering their area hadn’t seen a large outbreak. Twenty minutes after their arrival, they departed, leaving him shaken on the back deck. The whole time they’d been there, he hadn’t moved from the deck chair. He stayed there another half hour before he felt able to stand. It was another five minutes before he felt confident his legs would move, and he was able to go inside.

Tonight the yard was empty, as it should be. The mutts completed their business, and they all made their way back inside the house. Until the morning…

The above was a stream-of-consciousness quick piece of fiction I banged out a few months back while trying out Writer, “the internet typewriter”. Blame my nightly routine with our two dogs. Blame, at the time, random conversations with Nathan regarding Max Brooks’ zombie books, or the, again, at the time, public consciousness of Will Smith’s I Am Legend. Whatever the influence, it is what it is.

posted by retrophisch at 9:19 PM -->in fiction , writing
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Saturday, 01 December 2007

The operative part of the acronym is “No”

The third time was not the charm for me, at least as it it pertains to National Novel Writing Month.

I started out pretty good, keeping my word count around the daily average, for the first five days. Then I became ill. Nothing serious, just a massive head cold, with a sinus infection chaser. Persistent cough from the drainage. That led to the onset of bronchitis.

All of this kept me up most of the night on Wednesday/early Thursday of the 7th and 8th. It really sucked away a lot of my motivation, because I was just so tired all the freaking time. Then I began making excuses to not write during times when I wasn’t tired. Like deciding the afternoon of Friday the 9th that now was a good time to begin a massive purge of all magazines in my study. (Anything more than a year old, with some notable exceptions, went to the recycle bin.) I do have more legroom under my desk now, so one could rationalize that this actually assists in the writing process. Yeah, that sounds good.

In the end, though, I excused myself right out of getting anywhere past 6,000 words. It’s December 1st, and I’m still not 100%, but I’m well enough that I should be writing, writing, writing. And I will. Because writers write. I have some great ideas regarding this novel I started, and the overall plot is pretty well laid out in my head. (This is a rarirty for me, as nearly all of the novels I’ve begun, NaNoWriMo-related or not, have hardly ever been fully-formed, at least in terms of a basic plot.)

I’m going to keep at this one. It may turn in to the sort of project Jason Snell undertook, where instead of starting a new novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo, he added 50,000 words to one he already had underway. We’ll see.

posted by retrophisch at 11:53 PM -->in writing
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Friday, 07 September 2007

“That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In between the yummy dinner of homemade chicken fajitas, and the Jello-provided chocolate pudding for dessert, I perused the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal. Above the fold was a puff piece on Al Franken’s senatorial run* in Minnesota, and it included this tidbit, “… the bane of conservative talk-radio” in describing Franken.

Webster’s defines “bane” as “a source of harm or ruin; curse”. Such is what I always held “bane” to mean as well. So I sat and thought, after having read those words, that while one might be able to argue that Franken has harmed conservative talk radio, I cannot imagine it has been to the extent of earning the the moniker of “bane”. He certainly hasn’t brought conservative talk radio to ruin, not now when it is stronger than ever. Therefore one might surmise that writer June Kronholz and her editors at the WSJ either, (a) don’t have a twelth-grade education, or (b) don’t know how to type “www.m-w.com” in to their web browser address bar.

A better description of Mr. Franken’s relationship to conservative talk radio might be “source of material”, or, if one were feeling generous toward Mr. Franken, “adversary”. (Mr. Franken can thank my friend, Mr. Lawson, for that one.)

One might also note Ms. Kronholz’s mention of Mr. Franken’s short-lived career at Air America: “He left that gig in February.” She fails to include words to the effect of “…due to lack of ratings and lack of revenue.”

Mr. Franken may be a lot of things to conservative talk radio, Ms. Kronholz, but “bane” is not one of them. Please choose your words more carefully next time, noting that Webster’s also has a thesaurus.**


*Subscription may be required to read.

** (A “thesaurus”, Ms. Kronholz, is a volume used to find words of similar or antithetical nature.)

posted by retrophisch at 8:56 PM -->in politics , writing
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Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Round Two: So it begins

Those of you who read my musings via this site’s RSS feed (you are using the Feedburner one, aren’t you?) will not see the new graphic at the top of the right-side column on the main page. Yes, I will again be taking part in the annual self-flagellation event known as “NaNoWriMo”, or National Novel Writing Month.

The insanity will commence shortly, at 12:00 AM, Wednesday, November 1st. Writers will have thirty days to write 50,000 words. The goal is to suppress your inner editor and just write, going for quantity over quality. An average of 1,667 words a day is what you’re shooting for. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? You try it.

Last year, I flamed out some where around 18,000 words, not even making the halfway point. I’ve been doing some brainstorming the past week or so, and I think I’ve got a story I can take the distance this year. (No, Rich, it’s not the one we’ve been talking about; that’s on the back burner for now, but still something I’d like to pursue.) I’ve been fleshing out the main character, even made a few notes. I’ve set up the PowerBook as the primary writing machine.

For those of you in and around Lewisville, Texas, there’s a write-in scheduled at the Lewisville Public Library this Saturday, November 4th, from 2:00-4:00 PM. Bring your laptop, they have wifi. Our church has the Roads Coffee House, open on Sundays from 10:15 AM-12:45 PM, and Thursdays from 5:30-9:00 PM, and I’m going to try to organize a write-in for a Thursday night. (Hey, Brent, you want in on this? This could be a kick start to getting some writing done.)

NaNoWriMo participant “ShatteredByRain” has posted some encouraging—or maybe sado-masochistic?—calendar wallpapers for the NaNoWriMo crowd. I’m using the one titled “Shore”. Hopefully it will inspire more than depress. “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.” Let’s hope so!

posted by retrophisch at 11:23 PM -->in writing
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Thursday, 27 April 2006

Sixteen

About this time, sixteen years ago today, I was at an after-party with a girl. It was our first date, and she had accompanied me to the annual Military Ball held by the combined ROTC detachment at LSU. The after-party was a small affair, at the apartment of one of the older cadets, who just happened to be my former flight leader and was a big sister-type to me.

The girl who was my date? She’s upstairs right now, getting ready for bed.

posted by retrophisch at 11:45 PM -->in writing
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Tuesday, 03 January 2006

Documenting bad grammar

Lee and I share a pet peeve relating to grammar, and he has chosen to begin documenting finds in meatspace.

One reason I don’t slog through comments on most blogs is because the respondents apparently didn’t learn anything in third grade, or since. “It’s” means “it is,” and “Its” denotes the possessive case. “There” denotes a place, while “Their” denotes a plural possessive. Those are the two major mistakes I see, which irk me to no end.

posted by retrophisch at 2:05 PM -->in fun , writing
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Monday, 14 November 2005

Today’s miscellany

Yeah, it’s been up a few days, but I’m just getting to it, okay? John Gruber has come around, much as I have recently, to the notion of PowerBook-as-main/only-system, a concept Lee has been a proponent of for some time. John also has an in-depth review of the latest 15-inch PowerBook, outfitted just as I would like, with his usual attention to detail.

It’s Monday evening, and I’m still sore from the neighborhood tree planting from Saturday morning. Eleven ten-gallon trees to go in the neighborhood’s greenbelt area. Seventy homes, with an average of two adults per home. Seven people showed up, including myself. Yeah.

An interesting tip I picked up from No Plot? No Problem! shows an innovative use for all that spam that gets collected for me. This one writer keeps a list of names that show up in the From field of spam e-mails, so she always has a pool of character names to pull from. I really like this, since usually when I’m working on fiction, I can come up with two or three good character names, then I start really pulling stuff out of bodily orifices. A simple text document in BBEdit now has 305 names, one per line, and the built-in Kill Duplicates filter ensures I don’t have the same name twice.

posted by retrophisch at 6:43 PM -->in Macintosh , rant , tech , writing
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Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Joining the insanity

Official NaNoWriMo 2005 Participant

So I’ve decided to give it a whirl this year, and join Danno and fifty thousand others at taking a crack at churning out 50,000 words in 30 days. Should be fun. Blogging may drop off considerably.

Think you have a novel in you that’s just dying to get out in the thirty days of November? Join us.

posted by retrophisch at 8:40 AM -->in fun , writing
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Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Bringing or Taking?

Because I know it is something Tiffany can relate to, here’s Brian Hampton:

This just in: bring and take are not synonyms.

I shamefully confess I have erred in this area.

posted by retrophisch at 12:37 AM -->in writing
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Wednesday, 02 July 2003

Libel protection for bloggers

The 9th Circuit actually gets it right this time, with an extension of libel protection to online self-publishers, like _moi_, and those who participate in online discussion lists.
posted by retrophisch at 3:44 PM -->in liberty , web/site , writing
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Wednesday, 02 April 2003

Copywrong

Zeldman calls it. Disney is not your friend.

posted by retrophisch at 9:48 PM -->in liberty , web/site , writing
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Friday, 31 January 2003

In The Visegrips

Gibson continues to blow me away.

posted by retrophisch at 2:01 PM -->in writing
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Wednesday, 15 January 2003

Gibson blogs

One of my favorite authors, and the coiner of “cyberspace,” is blogging. He also has a new book coming out, and damn, can this guy write or what? This is how the book freaking *opens*: bq. Five hours’ New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm. bq. It is that flat and spectral non-hour, awash in limbic tides, brainstem stirring fitfully, flashing inappropriate reptilian demands for sex, food, sedation, all of the above, and none really an option now. A departure from the body of work most readers are familiar with, _Pattern Recognition_ takes place in the present, instead of the cyberpunk future Gibson helped build. Now February cannot get here fast enough…
posted by retrophisch at 5:24 PM -->in writing
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Monday, 16 December 2002

A.Word.A.Day

Extend your vocabulary by subscribing to this free A.Word.A.Day email list. (Thanks, Michael.)

posted by retrophisch at 3:28 PM -->in writing
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Monday, 21 October 2002

National Novel Writing Month

Hmmmmm…..motivation?

November is designated National Novel Writing Month; the object for participants: to write a 50,000-word novel, beginning midnight, November 1, ending midnight, November 30 (actually, midnight would be December 1, but trying to convince people of this is like trying to convince them that the new millennium really began at midnight, January 1, 2001 — which it did, by the way).

As the site states, it’s a kamikaze approach to writing, where quantity reigns over quality. Output is the only thing that matters. Gee, maybe I could write a novel this way…

posted by retrophisch at 3:32 PM -->in writing
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