Category Archives: Life Log

27 Oct

Seeing the Dinosaurs in Lima

I took the kids down with me to run some chores in Lima on Sunday, and to reward them took them to a dinosaur exhibit that was being advertised for that weekend only in the fairgrounds called “Discover the Dinosaurs.”

I knew it would be somewhat cheesy, but the girls love dinosaurs and I thought it would be fun.

$60 worth of fun? Ouch. The tickets were crazy expensive. And as we approached the door there were parents walking out cussing up a storm. $20/person is a lot of money for a family to shell out around these parts, and people weren’t getting a lot for their money.

But, I’d been worried that this would be some sort of Creation Science exhibit where we’d find out that dinosaurs and cavemen frolicked around the Earth a few thousand years ago (that sort of thing pops up in this part of the country, and sometimes they trick to trick people in by claiming to be science exhibits), so I was happy that it was actually what was advertised.

On the other hand, an expensive dinosaur exhibit with pre-printed posters featuring wikipedia information about dinosaurs and some very limited animatronic rubber dinosaurs wasn’t exactly a science high point.

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The ‘many exciting rides’ were a line of 6 dinosaurs that gently rocked up and down for two minutes, like the pony at the grocery store:

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There were three inflatable bouncy castles with inflated dinosaurs in the middle that were the high point. The kids loved those, though since all the kids did their best to stay there, it was kid chaos. They were, literally, bouncing off the walls.

Oh, and after the $20 fee each, there was overpriced face-painting (extra) and $20 each to dig for gems and wear a hard hat (but not dino-bones, gems, it wasn’t even similarly themed). I opted out.

Afterwards Thalia turned to me. “That wasn’t a very good show, was it?”

“No,” I said. “It was kind of cheesy.”

“Well, thanks for taking us, though, Dad.”

Points for trying, dad.

On the way in, a grandfather asked me if it was as bad as the complaints online about it. “Pretty much,” I said. “But if you already have the money spent in your mind [he knew the price] there are worse ways to spend a couple hours.”

I think Calli was more blown away by browsing tools at Lowes.

Now I understand why the show only spends a weekend in any one place.

27 Oct

BusyContacts looks interesting for contacts management

I mentioned investigating CRM solutions to handle so many contacts a couple posts back. Good grief, man, on the desktop side the field is so. fucking. clunky. So much unintuitive software.

I know I no longer have the patience I did in my 20s for fiddling around with software, but there’s a certain level of ‘why can’t I…?’ that if I keep having to ask, I just uninstall and move on.

The reason is that most of the solutions are aimed at large teams and small companies (Highrise online, Daylite and etc on the desktop).

Most of the software felt like using a nuke to hit a fly. And a lot of it is so focused on sales teams that I would have to artificially adapt my own flow to look that metaphor (I do have a ‘pipeline’ of sorts surrounding selling, writing, promoting a novel, but it doesn’t match selling lots of widgets that exactly).

Further, a lot of them required replacing my existing calendar and other apps to use their system. A non-starter for me.

All my searching this weekend, the only app that appealed to my in terms of just jumping in to use it was an iPhone-only app that allowed very basic contacts management. But I don’t live on the small screen like that.

However, I did find that the makers of one of the best Calendar replacement apps for OS-X will be creating BusyContacts.

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If the simplicity and ease of use, as well as development cycle, of this app is anything like BusyCal, I’m in.

I signed up for the public beta and I can’t wait for this program to drop. All I want is to be able to tag contacts, view them in clusters quickly, and keep notes/info about them in one place.

I’ll download and play with BusyCal before I make any decisions.

Daylite came close, but I found it frustrating the way projects and tasks wouldn’t let me drag and drop between them, and the project management threatened to be overly complicated compared to my quick and easy TaskPaper set up.

24 Oct

Why I’m investigating contact and sales management software to help my writing (tools are found in many places)

I was talking over the struggles I was having with tracking projects through various stages (novels, relaunches, foreign editions, self publishing, potential new Kickstarters) with a friend who runs a sales business, as well as bemoaning my horrible mess of notes about contacts (reviewers, publicists, people who have asked me to do remember to send them something when it becomes available years ago).

“You need a CRM tool,” he said.

“A what?”

He quickly introduced me to some overly complex tools for lead generation and contact management that sales people use, which I’d never really looked at for a creative business.

But the concept of keeping track of people and what you’d last discussed with them, as well as status of projects, is something I’ve been using Evernote to track (crudely). I’d been keeping a giant text database with hand notes.

“Good grief, no,” he said, looking over my system. “You need something that’ll scrape your emails and calendar and integrate it all as well.”

So now I’m reading about Daylite and thinking I know what I’ll be spending my weekend doing:

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The creative side is doing creative stuff.

But on the business side, while I’ve gotten a lot accomplished with GTD and email, I’ve been lacking another layer of organization to handle the large web of obligations, communications, and project management.

Because when I’m not freaking out about trying to visualize everything I have to do, I’m able to get a lot more creative stuff done.

I’m always amazed at the way in which many writers bear their disorganization as a badge of honor, and often, sadly, then watch it cost them money and creative time as things fall apart. I’m always amazed at naturally organized people.

Browsing through the website’s stories, I see a lot of musicians and graphics creatives using this sort of software. Why not writers?

16 Oct

I survived Tropical Storm Fay, but was flown back home to avoid Gonzalo

So while out in Bermuda, I flew in Emily and the kids for a surprise weekend hangout halfway through being Writer in Residence. I was excited, kids first plane trip, using passports, and seeing an island.

They were jazzed to arrive:

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We went up to see Fort St. Catherine:

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We swam at a nearby beach, and then had lunch above it:

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Later went to the Dockyards to watch the sun set. We couldn’t get to the beach, there was a wedding happening. But someone checked, then escorted us up onto the walls so we could watch the sun set, which was very nice of them. I love ocean sunsets:

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The next day we took the kids to a Shelley Beach, a kid-friendly, shallow beach with a playground attached. The wind was picking up a little, but not too much.

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Afterwards, we had a wonderful lunch with one of the writers taking my workshop and her family. I got back to teach the workshop, driving in on my scooter. People had been talking all day about a mild Tropical Depression that had become upgraded to a storm, but no one was worrying. People were still enjoying some sailing in the brisk wind as the sun dimmed.

But as I wrapped up class, people were getting phone calls. Emily called me, the owner of the apartment we were in had been by to ask us to close the storm shutters. I drove back on the scooter, and the pre-storm gusts were buffeting me around. I should have gotten a taxi. I could see the headlines “Hurricane Fever author knocked off bike by Tropical Storm!”

I got back and helped Emily lock all the storm shutters.

As the storm continued to kick up, I began to wonder if I was over reacting, but it felt like maybe I should be filling up containers with water and that I should have done hurricane prep. But no one else had been very worried, so I hadn’t. I eventually filled up a 30 gallon trashcan. Just to feel better. Because that’s what you do. I also made sure to charge up all the devices I could, and a backup battery for my iPhone, as well as the laptop (to use as a battery for the phone).

The next morning was a bit frantic, because it was Sunday, and the family was supposed to fly back. We didn’t sleep well, the winds were gusting (one taxi driver said he recorded gusts of over 100mph, I believe it) and water and leaves got pushed through the door as winds changed direction.

The cell network was down the next morning, as was power, and water, and at first we couldn’t even get a taxi to our location because of reasons like this:

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I finally swapped out my SIM card and got the other network going, though promptly had to deal with AT&T INTL roaming issues. Once that was settled, I got through to Delta, where I was lectured that if I wasn’t at the airport right away, we would forfeit our tickets.

Sounded like bullshit to me, and the taxi company finally confirmed, telling me that the airport was damaged and shut down. Delta was full of it. After the flight was finally cancelled I got them on the next flight out, on a Tuesday.

We suddenly had two more days on the island. We spent the Sunday after Fay marveling with other people we ran into at how worse it was than expected. Once the trees were cut up, I got down to the grocery store for water and dry goods (they were running off generators, thank goodness).

Bermuda houses are built solid. Multiple foot thick walls, and stone roofs. Being an island out in the Atlantic, they’re ready.

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With no power or water, I decided the next morning that we’d head for the one place that would have everything we needed and relax: the bigger, tourist beach. Horseshoe.

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Calli and I went rock climbing, getting up to a point above the beach:

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We spent a good chunk of the day there. There was some spotty wifi, that let me get some email down, and also send some texts to people. We had hamburgers and cold drinks. And we got to use the beach showers, which was great, as we didn’t have that back at the apartment.

I managed, with my laptop and backups, to eke two full days of phone use.

Later that night, the landlord got the generator up and running. Only one outlet worked with it, so:

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On Tuesday, Emily and the kids were able to fly back out. The airport had power and wifi, so I spent a couple hours there recharging and catching up quickly. Via phone, the organizers who got me to come out and do this Writer in Residence thing, decided to fly me out as well. A new hurricane had been forming: Gonzalo. It was a category 3. Since the Tropical Storm had left me with no running water, and intermittent power, they figured it would be worse after a hurricane.

The workshop I’d been running, full of amazing talent, had to be compressed into that last day (I will talk more about the workshop somewhere else, as it’s not technically over). I spent over 5 hours straight meeting with each student one on one, and I’ll be conducting a Milford model style workshop with them after the hurricane, when things are picked back up.

As I left Hamilton, I saw that they’d started boarding up in town.

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My thoughts are with everyone in Bermuda right now. They’re in the bullseye, and it’s a big storm. And Fay put a lot of debris out in the open that Gonzalo will be flinging around.

Stay safe guys.

27 Sep

Beginning my writer residency in Bermuda today

In a blog post a while back I broke the news that I would be the Writer in Residence in Bermuda:

“Last month Dr. Kim Dismont Robinson from the Bermuda Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs reached out to me to ask if I would come and be a part of the Writer-in-Residence Programme in Bermuda this October. I would be responsible for helping direct some three weeks of workshops for interested writers, with a focus on genre.

It’s always a huge honor when the islands reach back out to me. And for anyone to reach out to ask me to teach or guide up and coming writers.”

(Via I’ve been invited to be writer-in-residence by Bermuda this October | Tobias Buckell.)

You can see the nifty brochure they made.

Since I’ve been living with the news since earlier this year, it’s been something way off on the horizon. Until it wasn’t. And yesterday I was doing laundry and packing and trying to get ready to go down and stay at a hotel and then catch a very early flight.

Bermuda is considered by some a part of the Caribbean. Culturally and historically it has a lot of ties.

But as you can see from this GPS shot on my iPhone, I’m actually out in the middle of the Atlantic and very far north of the Caribbean island chain.

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Landed a few hours ago:

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My contact has settled me into an apartment, I’ve got onto wifi, let everyone know I got here safe, and found that they left me curried chicken and peas-n-rice in the fridge.

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I’m looking forward to meeting the writers I’ll be working with over the next few weeks (I got to read all their application pieces, so it’ll be great to put faces with names), and looking forward to exploring the island. Since the roads are small and the island not so long (20-25 miles, I think), I’ll be loaned a scooter to go exploring the island with. I’m looking forward to getting some time on the beach, as well as visiting some of the historical sites on the island.

08 Sep

Catching up

It seems like yesterday I was taking selfies while riding a cable car across the Thames to the O2 Centre, but I’ve been catching up on All The Things since getting home a couple weeks ago.

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Meanwhile, the twins started Kindergarten. Which is wild. Everyday they’re heading out with bags on their backs that seem bigger than they are, and they’re riding the bus. Emily takes them in with her on the way to school, and they ride a bus to the sitter and wait for her to get off work. Finding out they were riding a bus on their own was my first parental ‘wait, what?’ moment where I felt this was all happening a bit faster than I was ready for.

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Now that we’re back home and slowly getting back into our routine for the new year I’ve managed to finish the rewrite of the pseudonymous novel PS-1 and, I think, tackled all the edit notes.

Which means I’m now back into my edit notes for the novel Island in The Sky which needs done ASAP and doing background stuff for my contribution to Storium. I’m soooo close on both fronts.

Meanwhile, I’m still doing some interviews and promotional items for Hurricane Fever (I’d love to do some more podcasts/audio interviews or video interviews, as those are easier on my hands than typed out interviews!). I’ll be signing in Kalamazoo, MI this weekend, along with Jim Hines, at Kazoo books. We’re hoping we’ll get a great crowd!

29 Aug

Food in Toledo, Spain

These are croquettes. I’d never had them before.

I’m now a fan.

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I love to sample different kinds of food and not have too much of the same thing. Spain, with Tapas and ‘raciones’ and various serving sizes has an approach to food I really dig. They also keep my kind of schedule, eating dinner at 9 or 10pm and staying up late.

Toledo seems down with Mazapan (Marzipan). An almond paste confectionary. Another first for me. I sampled a lot of it:

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For breakfast I’d often eat ‘tortilla,’ which is egg, potato sort of baked together. They also sensibly serve you queso manchego as it’s own dish, which I did often.

Bread and olive oil is popular. I like.

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Jamon Iberico, it was usually sliced fresh. In this case, right near our table:

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There was more food than that. I was terrible in that I usually just started nomming without taking pics. Emily did a better job, as she wanted pics for her students (she teaches Spanish), but I don’t have all her photos of all the amazing food.

28 Aug

After 1,200 miles by train, we spent a week in Toledo

In my last description of my European trip, I wrote about traveling 1,200 miles by train from London to Paris, Paris on sleeper train through the south of France, and into the North of Spain, and then down into Madrid and Toledo.

The morning after that epic journey, I woke up to wander around streets like this:

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And this:

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There was a street called Two Elbows Street somewhere, to my amusement.

Toledo is a medieval walled city dropped down onto a mountain. There’s a river behind it, and walls in front. Everything is tightly packed together… and old. Here’s a shot from across the river, looking at the whole city from across the valley the river creates:

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And near the Plaza Zocodover, close to our hotel, every corner seemed to contain a tapas bar, or a workshop where amazing gold thread was being hammered into intricate designs.

Oh, and there were shops full of swords everywhere I turned.

At one point I said out loud “wow, that cathedral looks very gothic, isn’t it?” Emily responded, “It is gothic. It’s actually gothic. As in made by the Visigoths and by definition: Gothic.”

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Right. Because in Europe you’re seeing the original thing.

This view, from just in the Plaza Zocodover, was one I kept coming back to. Partly because right off to the right, out of the camera, was an amazing Mazapan shop. But also because of the arch, the stairs, and the view of the plains out beyond it:

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Another memory I’ll hold for a long time was standing across from the city of Toledo drinking a 100 year old local brandy, watching the sun set:

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I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have been able to do that. It’s something I’ll be recalling for a long time.

Toledo is full of moments that made me recalibrate standing time. Like crossing a bridge built before the nation I live in came to be:

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Or crossing a street that ended at a door, and passing through it to find a square and people sitting outside eating lunch:

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Or waiting for a car to drive by so that you, too, can enter the official gate of the city:

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The walls are still there, and impressive, facing out toward the plains.

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For me, intimidating. Stories of climbing to get back up to the height of our hotel. However… they’ve installed escalators. Some were outraged, but I’ll be honest: Toledo’s built on a small mountain. It was a life-saver. Probably literally.

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Five, two-story escalators truck you right up the side of the city, and up to a more reasonable level.

Back to our hotel, to watch sunset over the roofs of Toledo at the bar on the top floor:

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Another day trip involved visiting The Monstary of San Juan de los Reyes. The courtyard walk around:

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The orange trees in the courtyard:

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Inside the church, which is stunningly tall. And a reminder that gothic doesn’t mean ‘dark’ and ‘shadowy.’ The arches, the buttresses outside, all are to create sun-filled open space. In fact, it was so drenched with light many of my photos came out washed out.

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On the second level, walking around the courtyard, the woodwork in the ceiling is just stunning:

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The week seemed to be gone in a snap of the fingers. Some tourists ‘do’ Toledo in a day. Even in a week, I still missed out on a number of things.

Leaving on the train for Madrid and a plane to London was bittersweet. Even as I realized how much had sunk in, I realized I hadn’t, couldn’t, pay enough attention to really absorb it all.

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05 Aug

1,200 miles by train

I’m in Europe, and just finished a 1,200 mile journey by train.

That’s like going from Omaha, Nebraska to New York.

Or, as we went North to South, like me going from Bluffton, OH to Miami Florida.

Anyway. The original plan was to fly into London and then take the high speed train to Paris. It is just a couple of hours. Transfer in Paris to take the high speed to Barcelona. That’s a long haul in a single day, but it would let us spend a couple days in Barcelona. Then high speed rail from Barcelona to Madrid and Toledo, where we would spend our time in Toledo before heading up for London Worldcon.

Here are the complainy bits, which all have to do with Delta Airlines. Skip if you don’t want to hear the whining of someone lucky enough to be able to fly to another country!

======Delta related complainy bits======

The buffer time I put into the plan to make the train to Paris was eaten up by Delta Airlines, who had us sitting on the runway for a few hours (the plane that loaded and taxied after us got there two hours earlier).

Delta in general was a shit experience. The commuter hop from DC to JFK was bumped back, and we had to run to make our connection (I wish I hadn’t). We got yelled at about our (very small) bags because the plane was so small. Then told we could take them aboard by another Delta worker. Then they didn’t fit (yeller was right, to be fair, but not very friendly).

The actual plane to London was also shit. I was promised we’d have power connection, and paid to have Economy plus for extra room as well as the power. I’ve been in coach flights on Air Canada that had power for gadgets, and British Air also had power for gadgets. I lost a ton of freelance work time that I’d planned on being able to use.

Also, the food was crap as well. Also, narrowest Economy Plus seats ever. I really, really wish I’d sucked it up and spent the extra to go British Airways for us both in Traveler Plus.

So, way behind on work, tired, cramped despite paying extra money to not be so cramped, and ill-fed, and landing right about when our train was leaving London for Paris, we arrived in London. Plans up in the air, we decided to wing it anyway. Emily spent time studying in Toledo, Spain, so dammit, we were going to figure out how to get there.

I considered snagging a plane from Heathrow on the spot, but I really wanted to use rail while here because I write about it a lot. And it is cool. I figured the worst thing that could happen is that we spend a night in Paris and pay out the nose for getting new train tickets.

Let’s do it.

======48 hours of train travel begins======

We began by catching the tube into London to get to St. Pancras. There a Eurostar agent helped us catch the next train to London, swapping our tickets for new ones. We had a nice meal while watching the countryside whiz past us at almost 180 miles per hour.

And then under sea as we passed under the Channel!

It didn’t take long before we arrived in Paris at the Gare Lyon. From there we went to the Gare Nord to grab a bite to eat and then talk about our tickets to Barcelona. We found the SNCF ticket office that pertained to our tickets and waited in line. Someone shouted in French that the line would be closed. We weren’t sure if we would get to see a human about the tickets. I started looking for hotels to stay in for the night, assuming I’d buy us brand new set of tickets for Barcelona in the morning, and we’d have just a day there, not two.

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However the SNCF agent managed to get us a sleeper car, first class, leaving Austerlitz. “You’re a wonderful human being!” I said. And we caught a taxi to Austerlitz, where we waited in crowds of people (some playing a piano just sitting out there by the platform). I got to use my first pay-bathroom. I considered using the pay shower, but I didn’t have a towel.

Note to self…

At this point, I made one small mistake. I didn’t hunt down a French/Spanish power adaptor for my devices while at any of the big stations there. Once aboard the sleeper, I realized I had a power problem. We needed to use my phone to change bookings and figure things out, too. So in addition to the lack of laptop usage aboard the plane, I’d get little laptop usage on the trip through France and Spain as well.

Yikes. My plans to keep up with work while in transit had just plain evaporated.

But no worries. I was so tired after flying for 7 hours + sitting on tarmac for 3 (Delta, boo) that climbing into a bed on a slower sleeper train leaving Austerlitz was bliss. I canceled our hotel room in Barcelona for two nights, and we hunted down a room in Toledo and just planned to extend our stay there. Sorry Barcelona, another time perhaps?

Taking off shoes, and locking the door, we watched night-time France slide by as the train rocked us to sleep.

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We woke up crazy early the next morning. I got up a bit earlier and just lay there, watching the dawn light up and old southern French countryside roll by and then eventually start misting over.

As we headed west and approached the coast, the buildings became gleaming white and capped with red tile roofs. Saint-Jean in particular I made a note of. Sea-side, cute buildings. I’d like to explore there someday.

The train eventually deposited us in Irun, Spain somewhere around 10 in the morning-ish. Close to Bilbao. We got tickets for Madrid, and had to run to catch the train leaving in just minutes.

I’m not supposed to run, but what the fuck, right? We’re having an adventure.

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We made that train, and were off. It was supposed to be a seven or more hour ride, but I realized if we got off at Valladolid we could use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, and catch high speed rail from there into Madrid and pass the train we were on, and shave nearly 2 hours off the ride.

We got into Madrid at 4-ish.

By now, we’d been in a plane or on a train for a long, long time. By Madrid, I was starting to get tired of traveling. Toledo started to seem a magical, magical end point that wasn’t moving.

But. More travel. We hopped down into the Metra (Madrid’s subway) and caught a beautiful modern subway train to Atocha station. From there, tickets to Toledo proved problematic because every damn machine I tried had trouble printing. I finally got tickets, and then my credit card’s fraud protection team locked the card out due to my six or so attempts to buy a ticket.

Sad trumpet sound.

Madrid to Toledo featured a short pause due to a train delay, but it was still at least as fast as a bus, and then we caught a taxi up the tight, winding cobblestone streets and between the walls of Toledo to our hotel.

And now I am on stable land. Swaying a little, still.

Oh, I showered like three times. I kinda want to take one again. It’s amazing how quickly you miss one after 48 hours walking, running, sitting in hot places…

I said on twitter that doing a train trip like this was on my bucket list. I just didn’t expect two days of it. I’d planned one intense day of high speed travel. But oh well! I’ve always wanted to try a sleeper car! And I got to snack outside in a plaza in Paris. And go through the chunnel. And get to come.

It’s our first vacation in a long time. And even though I’m having to do freelance work through it due to not having power on the Delta flight or for most of the train travel, I’m grateful to be here.

We just had amazing tapas for dinner at this place:

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Afterwards we stood and looked out over some of Toledo’s city walls.

It’s a good life.

31 Jul

I will be a guest instructor at Clarion West in 2015

So here is the announcement:

“Clarion West is delighted to announce the names of the instructors for the 2015 Six-Week Workshop. Applications will open in December 2014. More information about the instructors and application instructions will be posted in the coming weeks.

Andy Duncan  2015 Clarion West Leslie Howle Fellow
Eileen Gunn
Tobias Buckell
Connie Willis
Nalo Hopkinson
Cory Doctorow  2015 Clarion West Susan C. Petrey Fellow”

(Via News |.)

So first off, what an amazing line up of instructors for 2015. I’ll be keeping some heady company.

One of the things I got to do was meet Clarion West organizers Neile Graham, Tod, and Huw at the Seattle book signing while I was on tour last week. And I have to say, it’s been so hard to keep this secret up until now, even thought I was talking to them the day before the news went out!

So I’m totally honored and amazed that I am now going to be an instructor at Clarion. Having been a new Clarion student myself in 1999, this is one of those ‘coming around full circle’ moments that sometimes happen in life.

It’ll be very, very odd being on the other side of the circle, though. I hope to do well by the students.