Brave new world

Well, thanks to the Soulmen, incredibly awesome developers responsible for Ulysses, by platform of choice for the written word, I can now publish direct to my blog from the software. This opens up a lot. I hope it’ll mean more content here, as I don’t need to futz about with intermediate steps. We shall see. I need to get my bearings around how things are done first, that’s certain. Stay tuned. 🙂

Oh, and you folks at Ulysses. You totally rock.

Missed Pokéopportunity

Okay, it showed up powerfully and quickly enough that it felt like a shot from the right side that I didn’t see coming. It’s like, on Friday the world was the same, and Monday, everyone had lost their damned minds. References to that seminal Star Trek NG episode “The Game” we’re all over Twitter. So much so that even good ‘ol Wil got in on it.

At first, I didn’t much care, and I’m still being drawn in by increasing curiosity. Even if all I am is a geek with a smartphone and interest in all things nerdy, Pokémon has never been an interest of mine, and I lived through the whole phenomenon the first time around. I could have played the card game, or the video game, or watched the cartoon. I never did. It just didn’t grab me. So, it’s not really surprizing that I’m pretty tepid about this most recent iteration.

Still, it’s turning out to be quite the zeitgeist, and so it’s earned a spot in my scribblings. I haven’t installed it yet–I might not ever do, but there’s an increasing chance that I’ll have to just because it’s here, burning brightly, and I am an insufferable old-school, nerdy moth.

I was thinking about it having learned a little about the game though, (I’m not going into that here. If you really want details, go to iMore). But it seems to me that the world of smartphones is trying to take away from the world of our own imaginations.

See, when I was a kid back in the early 80s, I used to be the sort of geek who liked to play Dungeons and Dragons. Loved the whole lot of it. I was never super-obsessed with it; I was never a dungeon master, and I never bought all the paraphernalia and stuff (Although I did have a healthy collection of AD&D books, some of which are collector’s items these days) but I liked to play. And my friends were obsessed with it. And so I went along.

One summer it was such that when we couldn’t play the game because we lacked resources, people, or our parents demanded that we go outside already, we’d play what our little group came to call “Realistic D&D”. In practice, it was a bunch of kids running around a field or wooded area with sticks trying to virtually kill each other. But in our imaginations, we were knights fighting dragons and Orcs in a Tolkienian landscape. In our imaginations, we were in this world.

It strikes me that this is a little what Pokémon is all about. Except instead of imagining your encounters, the app provides you with them. You can see, though augmented reality, the thing you’re trying to deal with.

I was thinking what an amazing game that would be. Imagine if you could finally go for a walk in a wooded area and actually randomly encounter dragons and then fight them in such a way that saving throws and hit points were tracked, and gold and experience points were gained. I imagine that people could submit modules for public spaces in their communities and sell those modules online and people could go to the park and play. Now that would be an app I’d install.

I claim copyright on the idea. Gary Gygax is dead… Someone needs to step up. 🙂

I’ve fallen off the wagon

Seems like I stopped blogging. Not sure what happened there. I was going through old archives this evening looking for material to enhance a video I am putting together about my old neighbourhood, and I found a whole lot of stuff, including former sites I authored well over a decade ago. Blogging used to be so much fun before Facebook killed it.

There used to be this thing called Blogger Insider. It was a service that you signed up for and it paired you off with another blogger every week. You’d then read each other’s blogs, and send over 10 questions for the person, which they would then answer and use as a blog post. It was pretty fun.

Anyway, I was reminded of the good old days of blogging, and I think I just wanted to write something again. I miss it. Maybe once the newest version of Ulysses gets out of beta, I will blog more, as rumour has it that it’ll publish straight to any WordPress blog. At that point, I won’t have to leave my writing environment to post. Maybe that’ll spur me on. We shall see.

Oh, I also revved the theme to twenty sixteen. I think I’ll just do that every year. It’s a good enough theme.

This happened…

October 2015 edition. Check out all the things that have happened.

The leaves began their final farewells.

I celebrated yet another year of marital bliss.

Oktoberfest war wunderbar!

We visited our favourite apple hangout.

The babysitting zombie apocalypse occurred (I survived).

A sad day as we bid farewell to our birch tree.

I saw Sound of Music at Stratford.

The first hint of winter came a-knockin’.

The fall harvest got phallic.

Saw a performance of Crime of the Century (but not by Supertramp).

Our pumpkins were spooky and goofy.

See you next month!

Hippie wannabe ode to a tree

This morning, armed with the kind of hardware that our forefathers didn’t even dream of, a group of four young men arrived at our house and removed our birch tree.


It was kind of a sad day. The tree needed to go, and it was a long time coming, too. Birch trees don’t have a particularly long life in urban yards–20 years is pushing it, and ours was older than that. Our neighbours were here three years after the house was built, and they said it was there when they got here 21 years ago. I assume that birch was one of the first trees in the neighbourhood, planted by the first people to live here. It’d be cool to be able to know why they selected it–maybe there was a story there.

I’d have loved to keep it–it was a very lovely tree. I liked the way it stood in front of our house like no other tree on the block. All I needed to say to people who wanted to come for a visit for the first time was “It’s the little house with old birch tree out front”, and no one got lost. I loved to hear the sound of the wind through its branches on cold autumn days like the ones we have been having:

Its branches were lovely, and from them hung the little twig-like branches with all the leaves that reminded me of Suzanne’s hair on the rare occasions when she wears it down. The tree used to tickle me with its little twigs whenever I went to unlock our front door. It was playful, and it seemed to like me as much as I liked it. It had as companions the spring tulips and hostas of the summer, and these small plants snuggled around its feet. They were all very happy.


It really pained me to have it removed.

But the last couple years were quite hard for it. We had three or so ice storms in that time, and each time, in spite of how staggeringly beautiful it could be, I could have sworn the poor tree was going to come down with the weight of the ice.



We lost a lot of branches in the ice storms, and the tree was dying from the top down to the point where it was bare at the top, even in the height of summer when it should have been green and happy. The tree looked sad at the top, and often the birds in the neighbourhood would seem to take some kind of pity on it, and perch on its highest exposed branches and sing. It was the place this spring where I saw my first Robin:


I knew that in spite of its stalwartly growing leaves each summer as well as it could, it was tired, and it was getting to the point where it couldn’t withstand another winter. So, today was the day.


The house looks somehow smaller without it there. It seems like we’ve lost something bigger than just the tree. We can see a lot farther up the street now when we leave the house, but it feels more exposed and less cozy, somehow. I wonder if the house will be colder this winter without it standing sentinel out there against the elements. I know I did the right thing, but sometimes the right thing doesn’t feel right. Sigh.

But, we’ve decided that rather than letting the tree service take the tree away, we’re going to use what’s left of it in our yard. The branches and most of the rest of the tree went through their wood chipper, and we’ve kept those wood chips to use in our garden as mulch and ground cover next spring. Our yard is mostly clay, and so a good portion of it has gone into our compost to break down and make the soil in next year’s flower beds (the same ones where we transplanted the tulips and hostas from around the tree) that much healthier and nicer.

And we’ve also kept the trunk. We had it cut into “cookies” as the tree guy called them. We want to use them to make a nice little pathway in the back yard around the shed. So, although our tree no longer stands, it also isn’t leaving. It gets to stay at its home. It gets to stay in the company of its master and mistress, and it’ll turn into the plants and trees in the years to come. We’ll remember it. The tree guy was amused. He said, “it’s not often we leave the whole tree behind when we cut it down”. Yeah, I can see that. But Suz and I are weird, and always have been. I like to think our weirdness comes from a good place. After all, who the heck writes an obituary for a tree? I guess I do.

Ave atque vale to our lovely birch.


NaNoWriMo Prepwork

I’ve decided to try to take on the NaNoWriMo again this year. There’s a few new things for me. I’m going to write in a genre I’ve never attempted before (fanfic, as well as fantasy–this should be interesting–if you’re interested in a synopsis it’s on my NaNoWriMo page, but basically, it’s a story set in the world created by Tolkien for Lord of the Rings), and I’m also going to try a new writing platform this year.

I thought I’d write a little bit about how I intend to use this new platform, Ulysses, to help me achieve my goal of the 50,000 word novel this November.

Ulysses released a major update to its software late last year–too late to help me out with the NaNoWriMo, but the minute it was released, I knew this was going to be a godsend to me. The sheer fact that I could seamlessly move between my two writing rigs was worth the price of admission right there. Last year, I used my iMac to write at home, and my iPad+Bluetooth Keyboard to write remotely. I write a surprising amount remotely, both because I like to write in the many awesome cafés that dot my little white-bread town, but also because I enjoyed attending the writing events that the kind folks at NaNoWriMo put on last year. I imagine this year will be no different. Having a way to sync so seamlessly was pretty amazing.

As it happens, I acquired a new little MacBook this past year, so the iPad is no longer my portable writing rig, but it’s nice to know it’s an option, and the fact that Ulysses syncs so perfectly between all of my devices means that the transition from desktop to laptop will be completely frictionless.

While I’m looking forward to taking the whole process for a spin this November, I’ve been kicking the tires by setting up my novel in preparation to write. Doing this has made me realize that I have so found my tool. If Ulysses hadn’t been around for years already, I’d have sworn that it was designed specifically for NaNoWriMo.

Without further adieu, heres what I’ve accomplished so far:

I decided last year that it was probably a good idea for me to try structured writing as opposed to discovery writing. My first outing in the NaNoWriMo, while successful, was problematic because I didn’t know what I was writing toward, and so I eventually wrote myself into a corner that I still haven’t figured a way out of. Last year, thanks to having a good structure in place, I had absolutely no troubles. I hope to do the same, but even better this year. It’s in the structuring of the novel that Ulysses has totally shone.

A few words about story structure: I am taking my process directly from the excellent talk on story structure given by Dan Wells a number of years ago. This talk is available on YouTube here, and I totally recommend watching it. It’s an hour or so of your life that will revolutionize your writing–or at least, it did mine. 🙂

So, with that lesson in mind, let’s take a look at how I structured my novel:

StructureTo the left is my starting point. I use Ulysses for pretty much all of my writing, including long form fiction, short stories, journal entries and blog posts (I’m told Ulysses will someday be able to publish to WordPress right out of the app, which is killer–I can’t wait). My long form fiction is housed in an intuitively named place in my list of projects. Within this are all of my NaNoWriMo novels, divided by year. There’s a group for every year. Within the project, I’ve created the following sub-groups:

  • Ideas, which I used initially to get together an idea for a story this year, but is now housing every last crazy idea I have that might become a plot point, so I don’t lose them.
  • Settings and Locations, which contain notes about all the places in the novel where the action takes place. Since I am writing within an established world this time around, it helps to have some notes that I collected from the canonical text so that I can know where and what my characters are seeing and experiencing.
  • Character notes, which is where all the information about characters I’m creating, or the known information about existing canonical characters resides.

Note that within these groups, there’s a new sheet for each idea, location and character respectively, so everything is extremely well organized and neat.

Finally, I have a group for the Raw Manuscript. This is where all the magic will happen. You can see in the graphic above that within the Raw Manuscript group, I’ve created one sub-group for each of Dan Wells’s seven points. This makes sticking to a structure super easy, and what’s more, allows me to structure even further into the manuscript.


By this, I mean that within each of these, I’ve broken the plot structure down even farther. To the left is what my current midpoint looks like. There’s four sheets contained within this midpoint. Each one will eventually become a chapter that satisfies the needs of a story’s midpoint. My character will achieve the first part of his journey, but will then decide to find the courage to complete the quest, even though it means even more peril. You may ask why there’s four sheets? That one’s a question of simple math:

Your NaNoWriMo novel must be 50,000 words in length. There’s seven points in the story structure. 50,000 divided by 7 is 7143, so each section needs to have that many words. But then I further divided this number by four so that each sheet needs to be 1786 words. Why did I do that? Well, 1785 words times 30 is 53,571 words. So that means that if I meet my word count for one sheet each day, I win! The math isn’t perfect, as there’s only 28 sheets in the project not 30, but I’ve found that invariably I’ll add a chapter here and there or go over word count in another few, so it’s close enough for me. It also gives me a little buffer if some of the sheets fall short of the word count.

As a digression, last year, I used the more broken down structuring outlined by Katy in this video. I didn’t do it this year because I found it constrained me too much, but I’ll leave a reference here for those who might benefit.

I can tell you though, there’s no way that this is how it’ll work in practical terms. I’ve done NaNoWriMo enough times to tell you that some chapters will have way more words while others will have less. The point of this is so I can feel going in that I’ve got it all covered by way of what I plan to do, and that’s one less thing to worry about! This structure is simply a starting point, and something to allow me to keep my eye on loose metrics. For specific metrics, Ulysses has me totally covered.

If you right click on any project, section, or sheet, you’ll get a pop-up menu, and one of the options is Goal… This is a godsend. See the little circles next to the Raw Manuscript heading, as well as the in the heading of each sheet? These circles will fill in as I write, and let me know when I’ve achieved the word count for any given sheet, and the Raw Manuscript one will give me my overall number for the novel (I could have set up each of the seven points to count too, but I felt that was less necessary). The main point is, with things set up like this, I’m confident that meeting the word count will be a breeze if I just get my butt in the chair and write every day.

The last little trick that I find handy is that Ulysses allows you to keep notes per sheet. For example:

Notes are great!
Notes are great!


See that lovely little pane on the right? Everything there is for your information only. Any text that you want to add, any photos for inspiration, any word count information, and even tags (I’m not going to go into the rabbit hole that contains all the cool things Ulysses can do–go to the site to get the lowdown). The point is, I use the space to write notes to myself about what needs to happen in this particular sheet so I only have the stuff I need to reference right now on screen, and I can corral my ideas per section so I know I’ll have enough ideas to write about, and none of the stuff here impacts the word count.

And the great thing is that it’s all seamlessly and painlessly synced across all of my devices and I don’t even need to think about it. The backups are automatic because the information is stored in the cloud. I’ll never have a catastrophe that’ll set me back. the only downside is that you need a Mac to get in on this party. If you have one though, I can’t imagine a better tool for winning the NaNoWriMo. I’m mightily impressed, and I haven’t even told you about how excellent the minimalistic writing canvas is while using this software! Maybe next time. 🙂

* and no, I’m not at all affiliated. I just love good design. The Soulmen have knocked it out of the park with this software. Worth every last penny.

I still imagine

John Lennon would have been 75 years old today. Amazing how time flies. I knew his music before I knew his story. My life’s been richer for his work. That’s a good life–one that can touch so many for so long, even if it was too short. It’s hard for me to believe that I am older now than John was when he died. I’ve now outlived Christ and John Lennon. Totally crazy.

Anyway, thanks, John. The world needs more people like you.

Islands in the stream

Apple Music Subscription ends

For those of us Apple faithful who jumped right on the bandwagon of Apple Music when it was let out into the world, the three-month trial ends today. Much as I’m a pretty strong Apple nerd, I will not be resubscribing. Thought I’d write a little of the journey to this point.

I’ve had this weird relationship with music as I’ve aged. I think I long ago stopped being cool and up on what’s new in the world of music. As Douglas Coupland once said, (to paraphrase) you sort of reach a certain age, sometime in your late 20s or early 30s when you kind of just have your box of vinyl and that it–you don’t stray too far. I’ve found that to be very true. After I left University and I wasn’t steeped in all the latest and greatest being blared from all the University hangouts, I went back to what I knew best. I went back to all the beloved 70s and 80s tunes that I grew up with, and that ushered me into my adulthood. I really don’t stray too far from there. And even though it hurts me when Suz points out that many of my favourite “Yacht Rock” songs sound like opening music for sitcoms, I’m not going to justify or apologize anymore–it’s where my heart lies.

What has changed, more through duress than anything else, are the ways in which I consume music. I started at an age where it was perfectly normal to have a collection of 45s that you’d take out and play, and a healthy addiction to Top 40 radio. I grew up on Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 charts. I sat in front of our family’s 21″ CRT TV and watched Marilyn McCoo sing cover tunes on Solid Gold, and I taped everything I could so I could hear it again when I wanted to. It didn’t matter a whit that the quality was crap.

I guess it all changed when CDs finally came around in the mid to late 80s. They were something wholly different. Even before I got to the music part of the experience, I loved the look of them. That shimmery, rainbow-glinted silver disc. I couldn’t believe, looking at it, there was actual music on there. I remember pining for a CD player for a good long while before I somehow scraped up the cash to buy the absolute bottom-level one I could afford. I spent literally all of my money on it–I couldn’t even afford to buy a CD to play in it when I got it home. My dad took pity on me and fronted me for one CD. I didn’t even think about it–I ran right out and bought Dark Side of the Moon. I just had to hear my favourite band’s most awesome record in all that crystal clarity. Gone was the hiss, gone was the horrible dolby noise reduction that made everything on my tapes sound like it was being played on the other side of a pillow. Gone was the crackle-pop-skip of the vinyl (which I would later come to love for what it was). From that time, for the next number of months, any time I had the money, I’d buy a CD. I thought they were the cat’s ass.

The next change came when people actually were able to record to CD. That was something–I recall following my friend Jake to his office where his boss had the only CD burner we knew of, and he let us try it. It took hours, but I did get a disc of music out of it. Amazing. We listened to the CD we created on Jake’s car CD player (another rarity at the time) on the way home. It felt like the future was here.

Finally came MP3, which didn’t do a thing for me until the rise of Napster, at which point I and everyone else I knew turned into a kid in a candy store. It was the first time music was ubiquitous. I could get whatever I wanted. I heard songs then I hadn’t heard in forever. And it’s been that way ever since.

The only change really is that the physical media slowly went away. My extensive CD collection sits boxed up in the basement, having been ripped to iTunes years ago. All new music (what little I buy) I still get on CD, but I rip it almost immediately and stock the disc. I can enjoy it on my iPhone that way anytime, anywhere. I also sometimes just buy the album directly from Apple and there’s no physical media at all. This totally removed the ritual aspects of listening to music for me, but I think that’s another post sometime.

That was a hard hurdle to overcome for me. For a while there, I was arguing that we as consumers were paying for a sub-par product. The lossy MP3s sold on the iTunes Music Store only contain a third of the data on the CD. It couldn’t possibly sound as good. But then, I realized first of all that the humble record store was becoming extinct, and I couldn’t get the CDs anymore if I wanted to (unless I went to Amazon, which is my current go-to), and second that the music I grew up listening to–the very same that has the strongest emotional hooks into me with the most powerful nostalgia connections–sounded like crap when I first heard it. When I was a kid, it was about the song, not about how good it sounded. It was icing on the cake if it sounded awesome, but it never stopped me from getting my music any way I could. I was never snobbish enough to say, “yeah, I’m not going to tape it–it’ll sound like ass behind all that hiss”. I took what I could get, and I was far richer for it. I’ve been seriously rethinking my audiophile snobbery of late. The equipment I have sounds every last bit as good to me playing a 320 kbps MP3 as it ever did playing a CD. The argument has always been that the equipment clearly isn’t good enough then. But honestly, the more I think of it, the more I think that even if that is true, it’s not going to make me feel any happier or better to get that miniscule improvement that I wouldn’t ever even know I was missing.

So I guess you could say that I’ve been becoming much more happy with having my tunes with me in the quality I can get, which let’s face it, is probably plenty good enough–certainly far better than what I had when I was a teen. To that end, I’ve been thinking more about streaming music. The only thing I still don’t like is that I don’t own the music anymore. If I stop paying, the music is gone. Somehow, this is still a hurdle for me, although I can’t see why. I own most of what I like to listen to, and the rest is supplementary, and a good way to shuffle play what I enjoy. It’s taking time, but that hurdle seems to be going too.

It’s Apple’s fault. Streaming music isn’t anything new, but it took Apple to give me a taste to bring it into my mind on any kind of serious level. As with most things, it took longer for the services to get to Canada–Spotify and Pandora still reign in the States, and their Canadian offerings are only now getting good. I don’t even want to wade into the hell comprised of the reasons why Canada can’t get good streaming media. Apple seemed to have it mostly together though, so I tried it. I liked it, but the focus on Beats doesn’t do it for me (because I’m apparently an old fart and not the demographic anymore) and the way the service works its convoluted little self around my local library of music, my music stored in the ‘cloud’ and the streamed music was just too damned confusing to me. Finally, they didn’t really have everything. As I said, my little demographic has been left behind more than others by Apple. They absolutely want the 13-25 crowd. I’m thinking that’s where most of the energy goes. I decided it wasn’t for me.

But I did like the streaming. I mean imagine it–a library that is literally millions of songs large. Pull up almost anything you want to listen to from the newest to the oldest and enjoy. And all from something the size of an iPhone? Yes, please. The same setup that required tens of square feet of my space in components and media gets reduced to an iPhone. That’s kind of nuts. So, I thought I’d look around to see what is available for us here in Canada. I think the best bet, and the way I went ultimately, is Rdio. They have as good a selection as any (and in some cases better–no one else could give me Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”, although their omission of anything by Ben Folds is a tragedy–but I’m willing to bet that’s more Ben’s fault than theirs). And their UI is really pretty, and I like the way they implemented making playlists.

Actually, the playlist thing is one of the funnest parts so far–I have been remaking the mixed tapes I created along the way as playlists in Rdio. It’s working about 95% of the time–not everything is there.

That’s really the only place it falls over. Some of my musical loves aren’t going to be in any streaming service. Canadian one hit wonders are particularly susceptible to being missed, to say nothing of the just plain weird stuff I found and loved during my stint on RGD. But, that’s what I have iTunes for–I mean, the local library and the songs that I keep in their ‘cloud’ as matches.

Overall, I’m happy with the way it looks right now. I have come to a place where I can’t really imagine wanting more. And the cost per month is about what I paid for a CD. If I could afford more than one of those a month back in the 80s, then I can afford it now. Pretty decent deal when you think about it, in fact.

So yeah, stream on!

This happened…

September 2015 edition. Check out all the things that have happened.

My commute got pretty wet.

A new nearly full-contact board game was tried.

Our backyard harvest started to come in.

Parkdale Plaza felt the burn.

RIM started to come down.

Suzie flipped me the bird.

Autumn started firing on all cylinders.

Melissa Etheridge rocked Centre in the Square.

Aliens invaded our garden. Thankfully, they were friendly.

iPhone day came for Suzie, and I finally got a new toaster.

The harvest happening made feeling blessed pretty easy.

The Supermoon Eclipse got clouded out.
Super disappointment

Spiders and rain made my home office window art throughout the month.

See you next month! 🙂