Bits & Pieces 2013-01-24

Links and things that I’ve run across recently.

Some Random Photos

Because I didn’t pull out an entertaining and interesting image for any of the other blurbs in this post. (Sorry.)

I actually like these better than the typical anorexic mannequins.

By November 14, the entire store was on sale.

Hmm… Looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it…

One of my daughters, I think, found her photography muse.

Personal Status Update

Most writers report on stuff like this on their blog. I usually don’t, and I suspect that if I did, I might make more progress. So I’d like to give it a try.

Writing projects:

  1. I’ve restarted Character Fiction 101 from the beginning, using a new approach and new style (inspired in large part by Alton Brown’s cooking show Good Eats). I’ve begun with a rewrite of “Writing a Character Story in 5 Easy Steps,” and have completed the chapter intro and 2 of the 5 steps (~2,300 hard-won words total). I’m putting a lot of additional research and creativity into these pieces, and I hope to soon have a snippet to share.

  2. I’m working toward a second edition of 1001 Character Quirks, now long long overdue, completely rewritten and expanded, with 18 chapters planned (so far). Much of the more general writing advice I’m focusing on in CF101, whereas 1001CQ will aim to be a comprehensive guide to character ideas. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to price these yet, but everyone who has the first edition of 1001CQ will get a free copy (at least a free ebook) of the second edition and CF101.

  3. I’m taking a break from A Reason for Life (Ardor Point #2). At last count, I had 28 of 40 scenes “zero-drafted”. (That’s 70% through draft zero.) And 9 of the unfinished ones don’t even have complete entries in the outline. (That is, the outline itself is only 78% done.) This project has been an uphill battle, which I believe has little to do with the story itself; it’s just me.

Losing weight: I’m down to about 184 pounds, for a BMI of 26.8, and just about 39½ inches around the middle (when I’m not sucking it in). About 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be, and a few inches thicker. And for the past week, I’ve been stuck there. At first, I thought it might be because I caught a cold (which I did). Then I thought it might be because I had a bout of delayed onset muscle soreness, after a day of exceptionally brisk and heavy walking. Now, I don’t know what. Sigh. I’m forced to consider that it might be…

Cutting out carbs: Since I began keeping track of the food I eat, I’ve averaged 60 grams of carbs per day. That’s slightly more than many low-carbers advocate. Considering the amount of walking I enjoy, I may need to be even stricter about limiting carbs (or slack off more). Sigh×2.

Tech-support Divining Rod

No, not even Microsoft’s call centers are that prescient.

Jeanette Cates reports on an offline/online phone scam that’s apparently been going on for (at least) a couple of years.

Jeanette received a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft support, who had ostensibly noticed her computer sending “a virus” to their network. And with a healthy dose of skepticism (and a little common sense), Jeanette’s BS detector went off like a klaxon.

These scammers may try to get information from you, or to trick you into signing up for a fraudulent service, install a fraudulent product, or even giving them remote access to your computer. Here’s a Microsoft article—the real Microsoft—on support phone scams.

And in a trés kewl twist of Gotcha!, Kaspersky Lab security researcher David Jacoby—Don’t try this at home!—played along with the scammers… or pretended to, in an isolated test environment. Okay, the truth: he scammed them. And managed to get information on their operation, including phone numbers they were calling from, the IP address they were connecting from, and some PayPal accounts they were using. Ha!

What Will You Stop Worrying About Today?

Marc Chernoff posted a list of 7 things to stop worrying about today.

The thought comes to mind that we so often fret over things we can’t control. I myself know better, and do it anyhow. It’s, like, hard-wired into the brain. We tend to underestimate the problems we’ll encounter; but then when we do encounter them, we freak out and shut down.

In The Millionaire Mind (pp 135ff), Thomas Stanley lists dozens of mind-tricks self-made millionaires play on themselves to counter fear and worry with courage, including such obviousnesses like hard work, believing in oneself, preparation and planning, decisiveness, visualizing success, and focusing on key issues. “It’s easy to say what must be done,” he writes, “but it’s very difficult for the average person to develop courage spontaneously.”

It occurs to me that these tactics ought to be useful no matter what the challenge, whether saving a million dollars or just getting your kids to their soccer game on time.

Following a Piece of Paper

Perry Marshall has some trés kewl comments on college education and the school of hard knocks, inspired by a series of posts entitled “Hipsters on Food Stamps,” about the college-educated who otherwise can’t afford to make the grocery bill.

I don’t have a piece of paper, never completed my degree. (And I think I just heard several of my Jewish friends gasp, because they probably assumed the opposite.) And something else: I don’t miss it. Because I love learning, but I hate sitting bored in class. And when I indulge in online courses—as I often do—I’m paying for the knowledge and experience, not for the certificate.

I believe it was during my Sophomore year of college, I had to take Mechanics for Electrical Engineers—or something like that—taught by Professor Loooooong-and-Boring— Uh, actually, just “Professor Long.” The class met at 8 o’clock in the morning—way before when my body says I’m supposed to get up. They crammed about 50 students into a tiny basement room the size of a bathroom stall, but with no windows or ventilation of any sort. And Professor Long would—and I swear this is an actual memory—spend the entire hour talking to the blackboard in a monotone voice. And I actually paid to take that class… or rather, to skip it. Instead, I studied the book and showed up for the tests, and passed with an A. And I was not upset that I had paid extra for experience and knowledge that I could have gotten—and actually did get—simply by reading a book. I had paid extra in order to take a step toward my degree, which I never did complete; a step toward my diploma, which I never did receive.

But I don’t miss the diploma. What I do miss is many of the lessons I would have learned by going through the school of hard knocks, as Perry puts it, by following a mentor through the school of hard knocks, lessons I’m still learning now. This truth served, in part, as inspiration for the story “A Penchant for Cotton.”

(By the way, like Perry, I also didn’t agree with everything in the original “Hipsters with Food Stamps” posts. But they do drip with attitude, don’t they?)

Today’s Quote

I know. But doing the right thing is not the easy thing. And frequently not the happy thing.

(Cadence Drake, Warpaint, by Holly Lisle, p. 266)