Project Euler – Problem Solving Programs!

So, a few months ago, I stumbled across/was linked to a rather interesting site called Project Euler.  It’s a rather simple idea (that you can go read for yourself), in which they present a whole bunch of problems for you to solve by writing a program.

Looking at the first couple of problems, it seems that they can all be brute-forced, but there are clever tricks that you can use to solve them quickly or more efficiently.

I’ve been employed as a developer for a number of years now, and one of the things I worry about is plateauing.  You know, getting lazy such that I still produce code, and it might even be good code, but I’m not really getting any better as a developer.  I want to keep pushing myself, and think this would be good for that.

You can do it in any language, because you are usually giving single numerical answers.  You could work directly in Assembly if you wanted to torture yourself, or work in Python, C#, Java, whatever.  I will be working in C++, because that is my language of choice.

I know I have other friends who are into software development, so if any of you guys think this is cool, you should try it, too!  I want to at least get the first couple done this weekend, and then read the forum posts about more clever solutions.  I might even post blog posts now and again with solutions, though I can promise to make them easy to ignore for all my writer followers.

Which, yes, I’m going to do NaNo, and there will be a post about it at some point in the future.

But yes!  You guys should consider signing up and doing it, and if so, you can add me at the site to track my progress.  My username there is the same as everywhere, cosmam.

Posted in Programming | 3 Comments

A Writing Status Update

Well, I blinked and now it’s almost July.  Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

July is this year’s second CampNaNo, one that I will not be participating in.  I think (but don’t quote me on it) that most years I only end up doing one of the Camps anyhow, and this year I got it out of the way with a mostly disappointing April.

Oh, except I finished the first draft of a novel, which is always a good, if daunting, feeling.  The entire time I was writing it, finishing the draft felt like this wondrous end-goal, if I could just there then everything would be awesome (cue The Lego Movie theme song here).

Well, I’m rereading it now, when I can squeeze in the time, and I can pretty definitively say that everything is not awesome.  There is the definite potential for awesome, but it’s currently buried beneath a mountain of mediocre words and ideas.

So the next step is to pull out the shiny bits and reform them into something beautiful (or at least a little more cohesive), a magical process occasionally referred to as “editing”.  I hear tell that editing can fix all manner of sins, which is good, because this draft has them, and a few that I wasn’t entirely sure was possible before I started.

Isn’t learning fun?!

Sarcasm set aside (or at least toned down), this does mean that my current writing focus is editing, not the production of words on a new story, so the word-focused deadline of Camp just doesn’t fit well what I want to do.  I could, perhaps, find a different way to count what I’m doing and maybe a stab in the dark at estimating what a good goal would be, but it seems like rather a lot of work for little reward, especially as I won’t be joining a cabin.

Plus, at some point, I really ought to get good at this whole “writing consistently” thing without NaNo.  NaNo is fun, but doing NaNo doesn’t make one a serious writer (though it can help).

The minor difficulty here is that I have no idea how to edit, and there are about as many ways to edit as there are writers (and possibly more – some writers might work on different books in different ways).  So this will be a process of discovery, of figuring out what works well for me, and then (hopefully) sticking to it.

You know, in that abundance of free time that I have right now.

How about you guys?  Any of you planning on doing the CampNaNo thing, even if you’re doing it somewhat as a rebel?

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April CampNaNo Retrospective

Yes, I realize that this is a few days late, considering that it’s already the 3rd of May.  Then again, judging by the frequency with which I update this blog nowadays, it could easily be June before I finally got around to this.

No lie, April CampNaNo was a struggle.  I started off wanting to do a rewrite of a story that I wrote most of during the previous NaNo, with a lofty goal of 75k.  Neither of those survived contact with reality, and I ended up just trying to finish my NaNo work and get 20k.

Which, I did.  To both.  But holy hell was it a struggle.

The Bad:

For at least half the days in the month, I wrote less than 200 words.  It was probably more than that; I wrote a third of my total words in the last two days, as a last-ditch effort to not lose.  What I wrote isn’t going to win any awards, certainly not in its current form (hello, editing!), and I know there are some rough transitions as I gather myself.

The Good:

I wrote every day of the month, even if it wasn’t much.  I rarely even do that during NaNo.  I finished the book.  The ending scene or two, while structurally rough, has all the right ideas in it that sum up the rest of the book (as it should have been written). And I did all of that with a rather busy other schedule, meaning that I might have a chance of balancing writing with my other pursuits (something that I’ve been rather bad at).

So where does this leave me?  Ignoring writing this month.  I have a big push this month on another project that I’m on, and then I can turn my thoughts back to writing.  I need to give the story a break anyhow, but don’t want to start a new one right now.

What I really want to do is come back to this one and edit it.  Which is, no lie, nothing short of terrifying, mostly because I haven’t the faintest idea how to edit, unless staring at your work with a mix of loathing and horror counts (spoiler alert! it doesn’t).

But I am going to figure it out, and reshape the story into something perhaps presentable to other writers, at the very least.  Something that, while not polished or even good, is at least not an embarrassment.  Because that’s the next step between where the manuscript is now and it actually being “done”.

So June will see quite a bit of editing activity for me, with some higher-level structural work, and I may use July’s CampNaNo to rebel and do editing.  We’ll just see how things go.

So!  That’s where I am.  How about you guys out in readerland – how went your CampNaNo, and what plans have you for whatever you worked on there?

Posted in Nano, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Stories We Tell Matter

I’ve not been writing much recently.  In fact, if we’re being honest (and come, let us be completely honest here if nowhere else), I’ve not written any this year, at least not yet.

And yet, stories have been on my mind.  Not just my own (though not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t slip into another world of my own creation, whether it’s a close neighbor of this one or something further out), but the stories we as people tell.

I think there is a popular, pervasive thought that the stories we tell each other, that the books we read and the shows we watch and the movies we see and the little events in our lives that we recount, are all for entertainment.  They draw us in, pass the time, and maybe even show us some new ideas, but that is the end of it.

And that’s bullshit.

The stories we tell matter a lot.  They shape the world that we live in to an extent that I am just now realizing, and that I think few people think about.

By way of example, I’m going to post a link that I’ve posted before.  This time, the thrust of my arguments is wider, but this is an excellent example.  It’s called “We Have Always Fought“, by Kameron Hurley, and it’s about how women fighting in history is portrayed as unrealistic even though it happened all the time.

At least read the opening section.  I can wait.

That narrative shapes our expectations, our worldview, and how we treat others.  The stories we tell do that, and if we just told different stories, we would change our world.  Not the past – that is immutable, no matter how we may pick and choose (or misrepresent) what happened, but our world today.

But this isn’t just about minorities in fiction (though that’s important), or how badly we understand the past (we’re full of misconceptions – and this too is important), or helping the under-represented (though that is really important).  The foundation of our society is storytelling, and its effects are far-reaching.

It’s why we think electric cars are unsafe and we’re worried about fires…even though our current gasoline engines are far more likely to catch on fire.  It is part of why we are more afraid of flying than driving, even though you’re more likely to die on the drive to the airport (and the control argument there is only so-so there – you only control your own car, not the other idiots on the road that could sideswipe you before you can react).

It’s why we worry about strangers murdering us, or kidnapping our children, or raping us, even though each of those is far more likely to be someone that we know.  It’s why we feel even less safe than we did twenty years ago, even though violent crimes are down.

Every expectation we have of the way another city is, another country is, another group of people is, the way life is – these are from the stories that we tell.  The facts barely enter into it, and usually just the ones we want to help tell our story.

In the end, what matters more than what happened or the way things are is the way we tell the story.

So don’t tell me that your story doesn’t matter.  Don’t tell me that it’s just a light and airy thing, something to read and then move on from.  The stories we tell, as people and as writers, can change the world.  They build our world.  We are storytellers at heart.

The stories we tell matter.  Your story matters, your contribution to the narrative that builds the world matters.  So take pride and carry on writing the world.

Posted in Deep Thoughts, Writing | Leave a comment

In Which I Accidentally a Novel. Again

At the beginning of this year’s NaNo season, I had a realization.  Every year I have won NaNo (2009 onward), I have thought of a novel idea during the month and then written that novel (the first year, I had small pieces of ideas, but nothing like what I wrote).  This year, I wasn’t sure that would happen; I had the two novels I was going to work on, and thought I might do some shorter works, but not a new novel idea.

I guess if there is anything that I like, it is proving myself wrong.

I was in the car on the way to my brother’s, and I was playing around with speech to text (because typing while driving is ill advised).  The problem was that I didn’t really have an idea.  So I said to myself, “I’ll do flash fiction based on the next song I hear on the radio.”

Almost as soon as I say that, I get a title (which is weird in and of itself – I almost never know titles):  “Confessions of a Dispassionate Superhero”.  And then the next song starts – Kryptonite, by 3 Doors Down.

I fully believe that sometimes story ideas are gifts.  You still have to work at them – to shape them, to bring them into the world, to polish them – but the central idea is just a gift from the Writer’s Void.  This, I think is one.

I start dictating the work, which in my mind is a flash fic, maybe stretching to an actual short story.  I get about two scenes in when I realize:  dude, this is a novel.

I’m still working out the details (and will probably do more work like that, dictation-writing key scenes and back story and the like when driving to my Thanksgiving this upcoming weekend), but I like this idea.  It plays with ideas I like to use, and I like the characters (and I like that I get to subvert gender tropes with superheroes).  I’m still discovering the shape of the story, but I’ve got a second work that I’m really excited about, now.

Time to finish up the one I’m on (hopefully this week) and then move on.  Also, I might buy Dragon because of this – I like this storytelling out loud thing, and want to play with it more.

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NaNo 2013 – Phase One Review

Unlike most years where my November is relatively uniform, this year my NaNoWriMo effort is fairly cleanly split up into three phases.  The first (which ended yesterday), I had my normal daily time and time on the weekends.  The second (starting today) I barely have time during the days and have no weekend time.  The third (post-Thanksgiving), I may or may not have any time.

So the success of my NaNoWriMo effort this year (as measured by my own standards) largely hinged on my productivity until this point.

All in all, I’ve done fairly well this month.  I made my 50k Day One challenge in record time (finishing before 7pm and writing 55,555 that day), and I’ve hit my goals most days (sometimes, my goals were rather lower).  The one black mark on my productivity is Sunday, in which I spent way, way to long writing what I did.  I’ve been helped by some friendly competition early on, especially on Day 2, but am backing away from that now (I’ve got little time for it).

Also, most of my words have been on one novel, and thus far I’m really liking it.  It’s got its problems, as all first drafts do, but I think it’s one that I’m going to try to come back and revisit, possibly as early as January (that hinges on my getting a second novel draft done before then, to give me the necessary detachment from the work).  All in all, it feels good to write a lot on something and still like it (this is certainly not always the case for me).

Now comes the slog in which I have way too much to do and no time to do it in, and oh yeah, also need to be writing.  You guys out there in Readerland used to me presence on twitter or in chat will start to see that disappear.  But I shall return!

At this point, my goal is mostly just to write every day, no matter how little.  That’s what I’m worst at, and for long-term success, that’s what I need to do the most.

And how is your NaNoWriMo going?

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On How Faster Writing Isn’t Always Worse

Those of you that know me know that I write a lot of words every year for NaNoWriMo (and sometimes not during NaNo, but I’m slower then).  For those of you that don’t know me… I write a lot of words during NaNoWriMo.

At the end of yesterday (Day 8) I was at 115,511 words for the month.  I wrote 55,555 on the first day (a record for myself), and kept up the really high word counts for the next few days.  Since, I think my lowest day is still in the 3000’s.

I’m not telling you that to brag on myself (though I would brag on anyone else that did that), just to give you a reference for what I mean when I say “writing fast”.  I mean many thousand words per day; sometimes, tens of thousands (though that is hard to sustain).

Though, to go off on a tangent for a moment, “writing fast” is a bit of a misnomer.  I’m not typing exceptionally fast (generally, I cruise around 70-80 wpm, which is good but not exceptional).  I’m typing for really long periods of time.  Given that I probably average 2000-2500 words an hour (distractions and the like), that means that I’ve spent 50-60 hours writing over the past eight days.  It’s about doing more, not doing it faster.

But to end that tangent, I often get and hear critiques that, if I’m writing that fast, my writing must be shit.  I’m not sure where this idea comes from, that writing more automagically means it’s going to be bad, but I know it’s not true for myself.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The only way in which my first drafts written more quickly are worse is that they tend to have more spelling errors, but if you think that’s the most important thing to get right in a first draft I’m going to question your priorities.  Spelling is easy to fix at any point in the writing process; that is not true of other problems.

My biggest problem in writing the first draft of the story is losing the thread of the story.  It’s the central idea, the feel of the story, what connects everything together.  When I sit down to write, I have this story shaped idea in my head.  The longer I take, the more likely that is to fade.

Spelling errors are easy to fix.  Mixing up details is a problem also easily solved (though for me, aided by faster writing as well – at a fast pace, I have less time to forget everything that I make up, and I’m something of a pantser).  Getting the tone, the feel, the central idea of a story wrong at the end is much, much tougher to fix.

Can it be done?  Certainly.  And I’m not going to tell you that my stories don’t drift a bit, because they do.  They’re first drafts, and rough first drafts at that (it’s the way I write).  But the things I write in two weeks feel far more cohesive, far more unified than what I spend three months on.

That’s not to say that it’s the same for you.  If not, that’s totally fine!  Write however makes the story most come alive for you.  I only ask that you give me the same courtesy that I’m giving you in not telling me, explicitly or implicitly, what the best way to write a story is.

The thing about writing is that, at the end of the day, aside from rather general (and excellent) advice (such as:  write more, read more, get critiques, etc), you’re only an expert in how you best write.  Some people will do it incomprehensibly differently and still produce quality novels.  This is doubly true when you’re talking about a first draft (unless you’re someone who edits as they go, which I don’t understand, but hey, if it works more power to you).

All that matters in the first draft is that you get the story out of your mind and on to paper (digital or otherwise).  It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be polished, and the only “right” way is whatever way works best for you.

For me, that’s faster.  So yes, faster can indeed be better.

And for a professional, published writer’s take on this, see Chuck Wendig’s recent blog post.  Worth a read!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Thanksgiving the First

For a little while there, I kind of forgot about this whole “blogging” thing.  Of course, between OT at work, the start of NaNoWriMo, and getting ready to move, a couple of things were bound to fall off the list.

And speaking of Fall, it’s time for Thanksgiving!  I know what you Americans are saying – isn’t he early for this?  Meanwhile, the Canadians are wondering why I’m so late.  Can I just claim to be averaging the two holidays?

In  reality, I just love Thanksgiving.  It’s like Christmas without the consumerism (Thanksgiving is a demarcation between the rest of the year and they buy ALL OF THE THINGS for Christmas season), and it has turkey and wine.  It could get more awesome, but it would be damn hard.

Every year, I make a Thanksgiving dinner for friends and family, though the date changes quite a bit.  Last year it was on Thanksgiving, but this year it is Saturday.  This means that I am cooking prodigious amounts of food and will eat nothing but leftovers for the next week.  Mmm, tasty tasty leftovers.

As a side effect, I’ll get very little writing done for the next few days, but on the bright side I should be able to get tons done the days after.  And then I start being all social and stuff.  Weird, huh?

To make everyone out there in readerland jealous, but mostly for my own records, the following is what all I think will be there, whether I am making it or not:

  • Turkey
  • Duck (I thought about making Turducken but backed away from it)
  • Ham (possibly/probably)
  • Mashed potatoes (garlic)
  • Baby carrots
  • Green beans
  • Stuffed mushrooms/stuffed squash (new recipe, but similar to the old)
  • Brussel sprout hash (seriously good)
  • Stuffing (from a box because I’m lazy and not a huge fan)
  • Gravy (from a mix, because see above)
  • Rolls and Crescent Rolls
  • Dark chocolate cheesecake
  • Delicious normal cheesecake
  • Surprise dessert
  • Some other type of pie (that I will just buy)
  • Pre-food snacks (cheese and crackers, pickles, olives, things like that)
  • Various wines, including (probably) a vintage port
  • Mulled cider

I think it will be a good day.

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The Start of Another Season of Crazy

I came here to post for the first time on NaNo2013, what I’m doing and what to expect, only to remember that I had already posted once, a scant two days ago.  Apparently, I don’t often blog, and I forget about it half the time that I do.

Anyhow!  NaNo!  It’s practically just around the corner!  In 27 days and 9 hours (give or take however long it takes me to write this entry) I will be at my keyboard, document open, poised to start NaNo2013 and another crazy round of storytelling.  This is both terribly exciting and kind of overwhelming (so, in other words, about what a NaNo should be).

This year, I really want to do some planning.  I’ve tried it once before, and it…didn’t really work so well.  I drifted almost immediately, and looking back on what I had planned, what I wrote was better.  I can’t say that won’t happen this time, but I’m going to try to plan in different ways.  Knowing what will happen next, and having a pretty definite path will help, especially with my first story (since there aren’t many surprises for me with it – I know it well).

My second story?  Ehhh….we’ll see.  It’s horror, and I know the themes I want to play with well, and how it starts.  I’ll do some work beforehand, but it’s not my main focus.

One of my problems this year (like every year, but even *more* so this year) is going to be time.  I’m working OT at work right now, around 10 hours a week, and it’s slated to continue through November.  Now, depending on how things turn out I may or may not continue that, as I’m also traveling a lot in November, but right now that’s my plan.

So I’m going to find the time to write when?  Oh right, I don’t need other hobbies, or enough sleep, or social time outside of Write-Ins, do I (fun fact! I’m way more social in November than any other time of the year. I have no idea why).

I’ve also got half a mind (and growing!) to pick up my language work again.  My problem, as usual, is my short attention span.  I can be really focused, and figure things out/create really well, but not keep it up for weeks on end.  So, I need tools/techniques to help me not lose progress, basically.  It’s a problem with my planning, my writing, and for things like this.

Fortunately, I’m also a programmer, so I can fix these problems.  Given enough time, and enough motivation, and focus.  Unsurprisingly, the first thing I want to make is a ToDo app that thinks like I do, and then I can move on to a nice language creation program.  Or my goal-focused and even more awesome writing program (yes, I have ideas on one, but again, see also time).

So yes, that’s my life right now.  How about your’s, oh gentle reader?  And are you doing NaNo?  Because if not, you totally should.

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Nano Prep

So, as part of preparation for NaNoWriMo, I am doing a thirty day (ideally) character workshop thing.  It’s not originally by me, but I have lost the link, so here are the questions:

1.)                Describe your character’s relationship with their mother or their father, or both. Was it good? Bad? Were they spoiled rotten, ignored? Do they still get along now, or no?

2.)                What are your characters most prominent physical features?

3.)                Name one scar your character has, and tell us where it came from. If they don’t have any, is there a reason?

4.)                How vain is your character? Do they find themselves attractive? 

5.)                What’s your character’s ranking on the KINSEY SCALE?

6.)                Describe your character’s happiest memory.

7.)                Is there one event or happening your character would like to erase from their past? Why? 

8.)                Day of Favorites! What’s your character’s favorite ice cream flavor? Color? Song? Flower?

9.)                Who does your character trust?

10.)            Can you define a turning point in your character’s life? Multiples are acceptable.

11.)            Is there an animal you equate with your character?

12.)            How is your character with technology? Super savvy, or way behind the times? Letters or email?

13.)            What does your character’s bed look like when he/she wakes up? Are the covers off on one side of the bed, are they all curled around a pillow, sprawled everywhere? In what position might they sleep?

14.)            How does your character react to temperature changes such as extreme heat and cold?

15.)            Is your character an early morning bird or a night owl?

16.) Are there any blood relatives that your character is particularly close with, besides the immediate ones?

 Cousins, Uncles, Grandfathers, Aunts, et cetera. Are there any others that your character practically considers a blood relative?

17.)            What’s your character’s desk/workspace look like? Are they neat or messy?

18.)            Is your character a good cook? What’s their favorite recipe, whether they’re good or not? (Microwave mac-and-cheese applies.)

19.)            What’s your character’s preferred means of travel?

20.)            Does your character have any irrational fears?

21.)            What would your character’s CUTIE MARK be?

22.)            If your character could time travel, where would they go?

23.)            Is your character superstitious?

24.)            What might your character’s ideal romantic partner be?

25.)            Describe your character’s hands. Are they small, long, calloused, smooth, stubby?

26.)            Second day of favorites! Favorite comfort food, favorite vice, favorite outfit, favorite hot drink, favorite time of year, and favorite holiday.

27.)            Pick two songs that describe your character at two different points of their life, and explain why you chose them.

28.)            If your character’s life was a genre, what would it be?

29.)            How does your character smell? Do they wear perfume or cologne?

30.)            And finally: Write a letter to your character, from yourself.

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