Jack Vance

Maske-Thaery by Jack VanceI’m rediscovering my love for the old novels of Jack Vance. His protagonists drive their stories like none other; his aliens are the most alien; his other-worlds and other-societies are as amazingly immersive as they are completely, freakishly strange.

I was afraid revisiting these stories that I had loved as a teenager would not hold up. I’m happy to report that they do.

This one, Maske: Thaery is my favorite, followed closely by the five books in his epic revenge space opera, The Demon Princes.

Using the Pomodoro Technique to Battle ADD while Novel Writing

When my ADD is in full swing, like it has been over the past week, I fall back to using a method called the Pomodoro Technique. It really works for me if I can force myself to do it.

Original uploader was Erato at it.wikinews - Transferred from it.wikinews; transferred to Commons by User:Fale using CommonsHelper.The practice is very simple. Using a timer, you set it for 25 minutes and work on something (in my case, a novel) without allowing anything to interrupt. No email, no checking Ello, no texting my girlfriend — nothing in those 25 minutes but work on my novel. After the 25 minutes is done, I set the timer again to 5 minutes and can do whatever the hell I want. This is my payoff. Then it’s another 25 minutes followed by another 5, etc. After four periods of 25 minutes (these time periods are called pomodori) I give myself 30 minutes to do whatever I want.

The big payoff.

Somehow, knowing you’re getting these payoff time periods helps circumvent interrupting yourself to check email, etc., while trying to work on the thing your ADD is trying to keep you from working on.

I thought I’d share this in case anyone else has this problem, and hasn’t heard of the technique.

There’s a plethora of apps for it, by the way, many of them free. It helps automate the process.

Not All Good Product Reviews are Good News

Anyone who wants to study the human hive-mind we’ve become, just go online to purchase something. Now, I think I’m fairly normal, though perhaps a bit ahead of the curve as far as technology goes. I’m what you’d call a moderate early adopter. I’ve been shoping online since it was a “new” thing in this world, and it’s gotten to the point where I won’t buy anything unless I read some reviews about it.

Just recently, however, I got burned — and I should have known better. This was a lesson for me, and I want to impart it to you, too, so you don’t have to learn the hard way.

My lesson: if there are no bad reviews, that is also a warning sign.

My example is a company called StackSocial. I was suckered into a great deal on a pair of Bluetooth “noise canceling” earbuds for a measily $24. Just low enough for it to be an impulse buy. I’ll make a long story short: they’re crap. But I read the reviews and there was nothing negative about them, just a lot of unaswered questions and warnings that it takes a while to receive them.

There’s no refund on the deal, that was stated up front, so I’m stuck. However, I thought, I should go leave a negative review to warn others away. Well, guess what? StackSocial, and all the sub-mirror sites that it goes under (Cult of Mac deals is the one I got suckered by) moderates their reviews and DELETES anything negative!

I’m not pissed off that I got a crappy set of headphones. I should have known better — but for the price I took a chance, and I’ll live with that. What pisses me off is that they are dishonest enough so as not to let their customers give their opinions. They offer a forum for customers to give reviews but don’t permit anything but good reviews.

I will not stand for that, and I will not be silent about it. This practice tells me that they know what they’re selling is crap! Sure, Amazon.com sells some crap too, but they’re honest enough to, one, give you a refund if you’re not happy, and two, let you warn others away from crap products. StackSocial silences you so that they can unload their crap and make sure you’re stuck with it.

I strongly recommend you do not do business with StackSocial.com or any of their StackCommerce network sites until they change this policy.

Sci-Fi Writers Take Note: There Are Way More Stars Than We Thought

I just read a fascinating news release from JPL about a sounding rocket experiment that measures the light between galaxies. The conclusion: “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”

In other words, there are way, way more stars out there than we thought, drifting in-between the galaxies.

From the article: “The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies,” said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. “The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves.” [My emphasis.]

So for every galaxy of stars out there, there’s another galaxy worth of stars drifting around between the galaxies. To me that means there’s twice as many stars as we thought in the Universe, which also means there’s twice as many chances for habitable worlds.

It also means that in your star trekking speculative fiction, really advanced galactic civilizations could more conceivably make their way to other galaxies, as it’s not a big huge empty stretch between — according to the article, it’s more like a halo of stars between, and perhaps even bridging, the spaces between galaxies.

It’s fascinating to me to think of civilizations developing among these isolated, far flung stars, and now mathematically speaking, the chances of other civilizations existing have essentially doubled.

Okay, I’ve planted the seed in your imaginations. Let them run wild!

Here’s a link to the article: The Universe is Brighter Than We Thought »

Avoiding the Awkward “Ego Character”

A common mistake fiction writers make is to over-identify with a main character, and endow him or her with all the traits the writer would wish for personally. They never make mistakes, always have a snappy comeback, and often exhibit superhuman intellect. Characters of the opposite sex will fall at their feet in worship.

This is the writer’s ego character.

No matter how much fun you have writing this character, beware of it. More times than not your readers will find the character embarrassing and awkward to read. As a fiction writer, you want your readers to identify and cheer your characters on, but this will not happen when they do everything right and never make mistakes.

People don’t fall in love with the perfection in people, they fall in love with the imperfections. The mightiest heroes have flaws and weaknesses. Sherlock Holms was always broke and suffered addictions. Superman succumbed to kryptonite and had romantic problems. Captain Kirk was an egomaniac and a sex addict.

The best thing you can do for your character is give them lots of faults and problems, and have them succeed despite their handicaps. Remember, everyone loves a Cinderella story. Everyone loves an underdog.

Note: This was originally posted here on October 16, 2006. I brought it back up to the top feeling it was relevant for National Novel Writer’s Month.

Problems with Lync 2011 and Mac OS X 10.10

Anyone having problems with Microsoft Lync 2011 on their Mac after installing OS X 10.10, this may be the solution for your problem (it was for me)…