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12 Jun

The 9:20 Special


A promo piece on one of the longest-running swing dance/Lindy Hop venues in San Francisco, the 9:20 Special.


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05 May

What I’ve been Up to…


Wow, a blink of an eye and it’s already May 2010. Seemed like it was just yesterday that I “finished” my NaNoWriMo novel — of course, I only got to the 50K mark. It doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near complete.

Since then, I’ve been shooting some weddings — check the SweetSmile blog

And been trying to work on some personal projects as well.

The iPad was announced and launched, and is something definitely worth keeping an eye out for — I’m desperately trying my best to wait for at least the 2nd generation before buying one, but I have played with it at the Apple Store — so sweet!

Been working in the garden quite a bit, too, as well as giving myself “me” time to do more leisure reading (see my occasional tweets).

So, anyway, I’m pretty sure it will be sooner than 6 months for my next post! :-)


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30 Nov

NaNoWriMo: I Did It! 50K+ Words in a Month!


nano_09_winner_120x240Okay, so you may have been following me (@DWongster) on Twitter and seen my updates about my progress on National Novel Writing Month, or maybe you read my earlier posts, but here I am, at the other end of November, and I can say proudly that yes, I wrote my 50,000 word “novel”.  I did it!

That said, the novel is still no where near finished, not even close.

But it doesn’t matter, because you know why?

At the beginning of November, I had zero words — well, actually a handful, just some plot ideas written down with a friend a long time ago. If I had not participated, I would still have that handful of words, black toner on aging letter sized paper.

Instead, now I have 50,239 words. And counting.

How much of that will be thrown away? I don’t know, maybe half.

So how does it feel?

It feels GREAT!

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

I can take away from my experience writing for 29 consecutive days:

  • It takes discipline to write a novel – just like any activity you deem worthwhile, enjoyable, or want to get good at or achieve — whether it’s taking great photos, getting good at golf, drawing/painting, dancing, or writing — you gotta be doing it regularly.  The ultimate discipline is the daily practice.  I found that with the daily requirement of 1667 words, I had to push through even during those times when I felt like I’d rather be doing something else. Seriously, there were times when I had only written 200 words over the span of 7-8 hours, and I’d still be sitting in front of the computer after the kids have all been put to bed, wondering what now? What happens next? Then maybe I’d go take a shower then, and then it hits me mid-lather! So after the shower, I’d bang out 1200 words.  The writing comes in spurts, sometimes fast and furious, sometimes just a trickle.
  • It takes inspiration to write a novel – while I’m on the subject of pushing through, what really helped me was reading about writing tips by authors Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfield.  I also enjoyed tremendously the pep talks that were emailed at strategic times by NaNoWriMo.org, talks that came from authors who knew all the trials and tribulations one experiences in the journey to novelhood.
  • It takes being prepared to write a novel – one thing about writing a story is that I can be out on errands and plot ideas would come. The trick is to have a little notebook (paper, iPhone, or whatever) that I can jot down these ideas before I forget them.
  • It takes time to write a novel – you and I both know that. Okay, so there’s something called work that pays the bills, there’s the daily kid duties, house duties, oh, and things that just come up, and something else…oh, right, sleep? Ha! Ha! Well, I think being a freelancer does help a bit, and really the biggest sacrifice I made was to stop surfing the web so much, and give up an hour or two of sleep a night.

Top Tips & Tricks that Helped me Win NaNoWriMo

So you probably already knows what it takes to write a novel, and what I just said is preaching to the choir. Heck, even I knew that before I ventured forth.

But why didn’t I write it until now?

I was always just…scared.

Scared of what? I DON’T KNOW!

Of the amount of work it would take, the time, and the effort, I suppose.  I had my established daily routine, and starting a novel seemed as difficult as trying to change the course of a massive cruise ship. With a dingy.

Anyway, if you’re still interested in ever writing your own novel, here are the tricks and tips that helped me to win NaNoWriMo:

  • Do some Pre-planning – for me, having a story that’s been stewing for 16+ years may have helped, although admittedly, I changed the story drastically once I got started. However, pre-planning did mean that I had a cast of characters with names and short description (anything helps, really — height, weight, skills, etc., more on this later)
  • Setting a target Word Count – for NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words in 30 days works out to be approximately 1667 words a day.  What I found was if I missed a significant portion one particular day, the next day is soooo much harder.  So, set a realistic word count goal and stick to it.  In fact, I knew I wanted to finish at least a day early — what if there was a power outage and I couldn’t upload the novel on the final day — horror!  So what I did about halfway through was up my daily word count goal to 1800.  That really helped to create a cushion.  This kind of discipline is similar to investing in your IRA or 401K using an automatic monthly debit from your bank account.  You just get used to it, and things happen!  So, setting maybe 500 or 1000 words a day might be the realistic option.
  • Getting Unstuck Tip #1: Write Dialogue – writer’s block is inevitable, so one technique that I used quite a few times was to start a scene having the characters talk to one another.  Before I knew it, I’d bang out 800 words.
  • Getting Unstuck Tip #2: Do an Interview – I have about three or four mock interviews that I did with each character, and I would write it all down. For instance, have your characters answer questions (that you write down as well), such as, “What was your childhood like? I hear you want to take over the world, could you tell us about that? You seem to hang out with so-and-so a lot, is there something going on between the two of you?” It was a lot of fun, and these interviews easily took 800-1000 words apiece.
  • Getting Unstuck Tip #3: Do a Cribs video – like the TV show, write a description of how the venue’s occupant would show and describe his or her “crib” — similar to the Interview, this gets you going on the descriptions of places: furniture, details, colors, smells, etc.
  • Tell People About It – in line with the NaNoWriMo philosophy that a writer may write alone, but he or she doesn’t have to be lonely. Get some friends to join you in writing — if you’ve got some so inclined.  Also, announce your goal on Facebook, Twitter or your blog (I did all three).  Most people were surprised at what I was doing, but all the comments I received were positive (Keep going! Way to go! Awesome!, etc.). Part of you gets inspired to continue, and part of you don’t want to “fail”.
  • There is No Fail - I was pretty darn sure I would make the 50,000, but even if I hadn’t it would have been okay, too.  The point was to use NaNoWriMo as the kick in the ass to get going on something that I’ve often thought about. You know, something along the lines of, “Some day, I’m going to <fill in your dream project/goal>”
  • This is my Zero-eth Draft – I was also of the mindset that whatever I write will not even be my first draft — it would be my zero-eth draft.  Having that philosophy also took off the pressure that everything must be first draft-worthy, whatever that meant.

Pep Talks from Real Writers

Oh, and last but not least, I thoroughly enjoyed the Pep Talks from NaNoWriMo – which, during the month of NaNoWriMo, strategically sends out oh-so-delectably-timely pep talk posts by actual writers.  I also did my share of keeping tabs on Twitter the #NaNoWriMo tag and from there I found a bunch of great blog posts from writers, whose tips I also incorporated when appropriate or needed.  Here are a few faves:

And on the NaNoWriMo site, they even archive previous years’ Pep Talks, including:

What’s Next for Me?

Well, one thing is I still need to finish this zero-eth draft.  And the other major thing would be to start editing it, and make it to first draft land!  I’m certainly not going to go the breakneck speed that was NaNoWriMo, AND I’m going to take a much needed break.

The most important thing, though, is that I have some momentum going now, knowing that within the vast landscape of wordage I created in the last month is a novel — hopefully a good one — and I’m quite a few steps closer to it than I was back on November 1.

You Can Do It!

Hopefully, you’ll find some of the above helpful in your writing projects.  But the thing is, take out the word “write a novel” and replace it with whatever your dream project/goal is, and make a go of it!  You can do it!


16 Nov

NaNoWriMo: Halfway There


Day 16: 15 Days of Writing Discipline, 15 More to Go

So today marks the beginning of the second half of my NaNoWriMo journey.

I really never expected to make it this far. My experience thus far is that my writing is a series of stops and gos, spurts of inspiration followed by long pauses of thought and reflection and, of course, life obligations (work and family, anyone?)

But what I’ve really found, in the process of discovering other NaNoWriMo participants via a (for the time being) permanent Twitter search (in Twhirl) was that being aware that there are thousands of others doing the same thing was a great form of motivation for me.

There are also numerous tips that authors of have posted, and one that I’ve taken to heart is the main idea that this (my “novel”) is the zero-eth draft, and really, it doesn’t matter what I write — well, it should have something to do with the story — but I can ramble on and on, without any worries.  The point is to get those 1700 words down everyday!

And so, even when I’m staring at my screen late at night, with the greatest desire to go to bed, I somehow find those one or two sentences that get things rolling.  Suddenly, there’s 200 more words.  Okay, that’s another 150.  Okay, another paragraph.  Now, what?  Oh, yeah, let’s write about this!

The Miracle that is Scrivener

So throughout it all, one thing that has been oh-so-helpful has been Scrivener.

Some of the awesome features I like:

  • Auto paragraph indent as I type.
  • Write in a non-linear fashion, which is absolutely the way I write.
  • Full-screen mode is pretty cool, although I don’t really yet have a need for it.
  • Being able to see the “binder area” and know the sections I’ve created, or am working on.  There seems to be some cool status indicators for each section, located in the inspector on the right window pane.  So you can mark things as “Concept”, “Draft” or whatever.
  • The word count on the bottom of the app window.  It shows the current word count in your current “chapter”, but a Command-Option-Shift-S shows the count for the entire document.

If anything, I’m going to hit the 50,000 word count just so I can get Scrivener at 50% off!

The Writing Process

I’m finding the entire writing process quite fascinating. From trying to recall a plot that is over 15 years old, to writing everyday at least 1700 words, to jumping around in oh, so random a manner (thanks to Scrivener), it’s really been pleasantly surprising (but hard) work.

Not only do I write in a non-linear fashion, but because I freelance and have lots of family obligations, I’m jumping around doing everything else.  All I do is keep Scrivener open — seems to be rock solidly stable, no crashes, not even once! — and jump in whenever I have a thought or idea.  And those certainly come to me at times of day: washing dishes, going to the bathroom, showering, picking up the kids, reading other stuff online, etc.  It’s fun!

What’s amazing is developing the discipline to write everyday the same amount of word: 1700 words, knowing that more often than not, a major portion of the writing will eventually be discarded.

But guess what?  That’s okay when you think about it, since it’s the same with any other type of creative artform.  A painter will make countless sketches and thumbnails before deciding on the final project.  A photographer takes tons of photos, only to get a few keepers.  So it should be no surprise that writing is the same.  It’s just we often don’t think of writing in the same artform kind of way.


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20 Oct

Write a Novel this November


One Day…

“One day I’m going to write a novel.”

Have you ever said anything like that?

What are the normal excuses? Mine were always:

  • I don’t have the time
  • I need to work on an idea first
  • I’ll talk plot with one of my buddies first
  • I need to do some more research

etc., etc.

Well, the one thing about the World Wide Web is more often than not, someone else has figured out a (possible) solution.

Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month

Nanowrimo is simply a contest system created to provide a tangible deadline for would-be novelists so that they can write (at least) 50,000 words in a month. Each November, they run a “contest” where entrants must submit a manuscript that they’ve written (in the month of November only) by the deadline.

If you hit 50,000 words by November 30th, you win. If you write less than 50,000 — or you quit — you lose. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you lose, and you don’t get a one million dollars if you win, but the idea is to let you taste what it’s like to really dig in and write something substantial.

In fact, a number of “contestants” have used their experience (and manuscripts) from Nanowrimo as momentum to eventually get published. Cool beans, eh?

Right now, we’re 10 days out before the contest begins. And I’m seriously thinking about it. If I can come up with a simple plot, or polish up the two or three that I’ve carried from my comic book days, I may give it a go.

I figure it would be like staying up to the wee hours writing a term paper, except that it’d be 30 days in a row. I mean, to get 50,000 words means close to 1700 words a day, for 30 days. No easy feat, I know.

Scrivener – A Novel Writing Tool

To aid me in this task, though, I also found out about Scrivener, a writing tool that seems like it might suit my writing style.
I’m very non-linear, in that I often like to jump around doing different tasks, free-associate when I’m thinking — I always have different websites opened in numerous tabs, etc., and it seems that Scrivener encourages such thinking while at the same time provides an excellent set of tools and user-interface to help organize your story and story-writing-related information, be it notes, websites, photos, etc.

The creators of Scrivener are partially sponsoring Nanowrimo this year, and so that have a trial version of the software that will last until Dec 7, one week after the November 30th deadline, with the idea that if you “win”, you can purchase the software at 50% off. If you lose, you can still get 20% off.

I viewed their short promo video and found that the software seems pretty intuitive.

And yes, it’s a Mac application — although if you have Windows, their website even suggests an alternative.

Anyway, here are the appropriate links to check out:

Stay tuned.


1 Response Filed under: writing
25 Aug

Witricity on TEDTalk


Now here’s a cool technology demo’ed at TED.

It’s based on the idea that electricity can be converted to a magnetic field that vibrates at a certain frequency. Anything that contains a corresponding electronics can be brought into that field, which causes that objects circuitry to also resonate with a matching magnetic field, which is then converted back into electricity.

Thus, electricity is sent wirelessly.

And apparently, it’s quite safe.

Of course, we’ve seen something similar in the Sonicare electric toothbrush, which has been out for quite a while, plus the Palm Pre recharges in a similar fashion. However, this new technology focuses on having a greater distance between the charging source and the chargee device.

Cool stuff.


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14 May

Fake or Real?


fakeorfoto

See these images above?

Today’s digital technology is so good that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether an image is real or computer-generated (CG).

Of course, we’ve been exposed to CG imagery in movies (and recently TV) for years now, and oftentimes for me, I can instinctively know something is not “right” about an image and know it’s been artificially created.

At the same time, however, sometimes you just want to enjoy the story.

I guess it’s just that once you know the sleight of hand behind a magic trick, then the trick (and future tricks) loses some of the aura of coolness, as you’ll always be wondering.

In any case, the above images make up a challenge from software maker Autocad.

Can you tell which ones are real photos, and which are computer generated?

I got 9 out of 10. What about you?

Click to go play the quiz.


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07 May

Website Revamp: Down Home Blues Festival


I’m pleased to announce a recent revamp of DownHomeBluesFestival.com

Down Home Blues Festival is an annual workshop dedicated to blues dancing, and is sponsored by the Northern California Lindy Society.

Here’s the final look:

dhb-after

Here’s the before image:

dhb-before

The Initial Problem

Two things jumped out at me with the old site:

It took up a fixed amount of space – with today’s monitors favoring the widescreen format, and coming in various sizes, including large, larger and Ginormica!, we really were not utilizing monitor real estate efficiently.

It took a long time to update – The Down Home Blues Festival has been taking place every year, and it’s always taken a bit more time than I’d like to update the site with that particular year’s information partly because I was always “manually” updating and formatting each page as needed.

In addition, there are many pieces of the site revamp to wait for: logo design, updated biographies, schedules, dances, etc.  And often times, I prefer to blast through a sizeable update in one sitting, instead of doing it piecemeal.

Of course, because a workshop of this magnitude requires a lot of coordination on the organizer’s part, there is inevitably a wait. Understandably so.

Still, I wanted to find a solution that would eventually make updating the site a more pleasurable experience for all involved: the organizers, me the webmaster, and ultimately, the dancers who are visiting the site to register for the workshop.

Solution

What I finally decided was to install WordPress, and to use that as the main CMS (Content Managemen System). More and more sites are using WordPress on their backend, including this one, and some sites, in fact, do not even look like blogs.

In any case, once I decided on that route, the next step was to create an updated logo.

Here’s the old one:

logo06

I did not have access to the original design file, so what I did was us Photoshop to trace the house with the path tool and then added in the new text, utilizing my own design sensibilities from my Graphic Communications days in my early college “career”.

The result is this:

logo2009

I reduced the height of the logo to decrease the amount of header real estate that would be taken up.

After the logo was done, then it was a matter of created the pages and populating them with the appropriate content.

There you have it — a quick and dirty run-down on a “simple” website revamp.

Check it out at:

www.DownHomeBluesFestival.com


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14 Apr

Shai Agassi’s plan for electric cars


When a TED Talk results in a standing ovation, you know it’s just resonated with the audience in a big way.

Shai Agassi’s idea resonates with me. I think he had me when he pointed out how American car companies (car 1.0) have always insulated themselves as an industry from what’s happening on the entire planet.

I hope he continues the good work, and hopefully, his plan will come to fruition.

Comments welcomed.


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06 Apr

My Top iPhone/iPod Touch Apps


apps

A Kazillion Apps!

Well, not quite. At last count, there were some 30,000+ apps in Apple’s App Store. It’s getting to the point where there are almost too many choices — I mean, how many of you have bought an app that’s now relegated to the last page, or even *GASP* removed? *RAISES HAND*

Well, never fear, DWongster’s here to help.

The following are apps that I actually use on my iPod Touch on a regular basis. Most of these apps are ones I’ve had for a while now.  What I’ve found are certain apps “bubble up” to my “top screen” — the first or second page.

I’ll state my estimated frequency of use, how I use the app, and some final thoughts.

DWongster’s Top built-in iPhone/iPod Touch Apps:

I should note that the iPhone/iPod Touch already comes with a great set of built-in apps — they obviously contribute greatly to the device’s popularity.

  • Safari – everyday – I actually use the browser primarily for email, specifically Gmail. I also recently started using Gmail’s Tasks. All of the Gmail apps have been optimized for the iPhone/iPod Touch, and look great (for Gmail). If I really want to surf the web, then I fire up my Mac.
  • Calendar – everyday – I have Gmail Calendar sync’ed with my Mac’s iCal, and from there my iPod Touch, so I can enter or edit events at any location and have everything sync up. I really enjoy the user-interface on the iPod Touch Calendar. The one improvement I’d like is the ability to jump to any date (say a year or more in either direction — hard to do right now via scroll-swiping).
  • Contacts – 2 or 3 times a week – Interface is great for entering contact info. I love how touching an address will automatically access Google Maps. All that’s needed is a “back” button from Google Maps to go back into my Contacts where I left it.
  • Clock – everyday – I must say I’ve never been happier with the built in Alarm feature. You can easily set multiple alarms, choose from a large variety of alarm sounds, etc.  The World Clock is great to know when international friends are (or should be) awake, and I use the Timer for various cooking tasks. Truly useful.
  • Remote – for parties – (not built-in–it should be, though, but a Free Download from Apple) It’s great to be able to access my iTunes music library from anywhere in the house.

DWongster’s Top Tracking Apps (Lists):

  • Grocery IQ – few times a week – This app allows you to add items to a shopping list. It’s got predictive typing — start typing the first few letters and you get a list of possible guesses, plus it’s easy to add items. In additional to the shopping List, there’s Favorites, History and Aisles (which I don’t use; I know where my products are). User-interface is pretty good: as you shop, you can tick off the items.
  • Gas Cubby – every fill-up – Awesome app that allows you to keep track of gas fill-ups and any service you have done to your car. My favorite is seeing my gas mileage at a glance. The UI is great: enter odometer reading, two out of three and the third is automatically calculated (Gallons, Cost/Gallon, Total Cost). Options include Payment type, Location, gas brand and quality (87, 89, 90+ or Diesel), tracking multiple cars, and cool graphs showing your mileage, cost per gallon, total gas expenses, automatically accessible by turning your device to landscape mode. The one feature I’d like to see is the ability to download or email the info, say for tax records. Update: The developer just tweeted me, informing me that the export (email) feature is available via tapping on the Search key, then the email icon shows up on the upper right. Cool! And kudos for their near instantaneous support!

DWongster’s Top Social Media Apps:

  • Tweetie – everyday – awesome app for using Twitter with a very intuitive interface for lots of Twitter-related tasks
  • Retweet – everyday – great app for keeping tabs on what’s popular on Twitter, specifically what people are “retweeting”. Can be set to see what’s popular from the last 30 minutes, 3 hours, 12 or 24 hours
  • Facebook – every 2-3 days – I normally log on via web browser, but this free app will let you access your FB account. Interface is pretty good.
  • Byline – everyday – this is my preferred RSS reader. It accesses my Gmail Reader account and presents my feeds in an easy to use manner. I can very quickly scan through the hundreds of posts I get daily, reading only the ones that interest me with its built in browser. The interface allows you to go right back to the reader feed. One downside: it does crash once in a while — perhaps once a week.

DWongster’s “Justs for Fun” Apps:

There are times when you’re just waiting for other people, and so here are some cool, fun apps that are interesting, and don’t take up a lot of time. So while I don’t use these everyday, I do use them when I have minutes to kill.

  • Rolando – a “platform” game if you need to describe it to someone, but it’s really more than that. It’s cute and quirky, with a cool soundtrack, fun premise, and awesome use of the touch interface and accelerometer. Gameplay can be as long or short as you want, as there’s autosave, plus the design of the game is such that even if don’t replay it for a long time, you can jump right in where you left off without skipping a beat. Highly recommended!
  • Sway – another platform game with a very good user interface. Much like Rolando, you can jump in and out of playing the game, for as little or as long as you want. This was a recent addition, so I have not played a lot, but it’s definitely fun!
  • Stanza – here’s a great app for downloading and reading ebooks in the public domain — and there are tons of books: Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Swiss Family Robinson are some I’ve downloaded. Plus, a recent update now allows you to purchase ebook versions of today’s books as well. Interface is really good, with the ability to change font styles and sizes, portrait or landscape mode, and much more.
  • Crosswords – a great crossword app with a terrific interface. Included are Clues and Hints (ability to reveal a single letter or entire word, or just show errors). The best part is the ability to download free crosswords from various publishers.
  • 7 Chords – a guitar chord tabulature studying aid. I’m a rank beginner very too little time, but with this app you can check out any chord, and in that chord a bunch of variations. The inteface cleverly uses gesture swiping and a scroll wheel. You can even hear the chord played out in successful single notes by tapping.

So there you have it — my top 16 apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch. They could all fit on the first screen.

Of course, I have a bunch more, but if you’re either new to the device, or just want something that will not be relegated to page 8, check out some of the apps I mentioned.

Do you have any favorite apps you think I should check out?


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