WordKeeperAlpha – Bugfix (August Edition)

Just a quick update today.  Today’s update should, finally, fix the bug that kept people from having their sessions last longer than thirty minutes or so.  So, now if you check the ‘Remember Me’ button will make sure that when you leave, you won’t have to log in again.  Added bonus! I upgraded the security!

So, no new features to report today, but they are on the way.  I’ve had a really good suggestion for the new Projects page, and I’m excited about bringing you more features.  More updates, coming soon!

Edit: I’m aware that the latest update has broken a few things.  I’ll figure out what’s going on as soon as I can, but I won’t be at my computer for a few hours.  Please bear with me just a little and we’ll be back to normal soon.

Edit, the second: Just pushed out another update that should fix the bug.  Let me know in the comments, twitter or facebook if you notice anything else I need to attend to. Thanks for your patience!


My thoughts on Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance (Part 2)

Whew! Big weekend! I went to Osfest, sat on two panels, hosted another one and, oh yeah, Katie and I put a bid on a house that was accepted! **Continuously dances** No, I’m not telling you where, you creepy internet stalkers. I’m watching you. But not, y’know, in a creepy way. (I’m totally watching you in a creepy way.)

Annnnnywaaaay…awkward.  I’ve got more news coming about WordKeeperAlpha but things are probably going to slow down on it for the next couple months, since we’re going to be moving and I’ll have less time for development.  Trust me though, the next update is going to be HUGE and you’re going to love it.  Not only am I (again) revamping Goals, but Projects too, and a fair amount of the backend.  All that is going to lead directly into the social upgrades that I’ve been promising for so long, AND blog integration.  Also, faster performance.  It’s going to be super spiffy.

Completely ignoring the fact that I used the word “spiffy” in a blog post, lets get back to talking about Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal romance.   Once again, full disclaimer, I personally don’t care much for paranormal romance.  My word on this is not law, I’m not calling you stupid for locing the crap out of it.  This is just my personal taste and things that I’ve noticed while sampling (often unwittingly) novels in the genre.

On the surface, paranormal romance and urban fantasy look exactly like the same genre.  Both usually feature bad ass (or potentially bad ass) main characters, magic, vampires and or werewolves set in a (mostly) modern setting.  I think the key difference (big surprise) is the focus on the romantic aspect.  I know, duh.  But really that’s all that separates them, or seems to be.  And that, is probably what I don’t like about paranormal romance.  The question of “Will they, won’t they” is given more precedence than “Dude, that evil wizard is just one sacrifice away from turning the world’s cows into insane werecow super-predators.”  Or, it will completely leave out the werecow plot (which is just wasting a terrific idea) and focus on the forbidden love between a completely normal woman and a super-hunky but dangerous angel-werewolf hybrid.  I’m sure that the latter story is fascinating to some people, but I really want to see what happens when the werecows start eating raw people burgers.

No, I’m not letting that drop and it will go into one of my books someday.  “Invasion of the Werecows,” New York times #1 best seller!

Another, in my mind, failing that crops up in paranormal romance is the thrice damned romantic triangle.  Seriously…how many times does the beautiful Mary Sue character really have to choose between the mysterious vampire hottie and the brooding werewolf hottie?  Vampire and werewolf are completely interchangeable as well.

Once again, its not that romance in the story is bad, or that I hate all romantic triangles.  I’ve read urban fantasies where both are handled expertly.  Take the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, for instance.  The first few books deal quite a bit with the romantic traingle between Mercy and two different alpha werewolves, which, just typing it makes me a little queasy.  But none of the books focus on that.  Its always a side plot to the main conflict in the book, in some books bigger, in some smaller until eventually it becomes a non-issue.  Mercy’s main problem in those books is often keeping herself or those she cares about alive, something that she has serious problems with.  Mercy is a kick-ass heroine who has a well defined character, a standing in the supernatural that makes her believable and relatable and mundane problems to match her supernatural ones. I just wish she didn’t get the shit kicked out of her so often…but that’s kind of what defines her.  Mercy can take a hit just as well as any of her supernatural friends, sometimes far better.  Their respect is earned, not magically given because Mercy is just so naturally talented.  She’s a bad ass, because she can be half murdered, and think herself out of the situation leaving her friends to wonder just how she survived AGAIN.  Her enemies are fools to mess with her, not because of her power, but because of how many threats she’s not only survived, but dealt with decisively.

Maybe I’m just talking about good writing versus bad writing.  Once again, I’m not well read in the official paranormal romance genre, but I’ve come to associate PN with writing that glosses over important character building to focus on the romance aspect instead of the paranormal aspect.  Is it possible to make the romance the main thrust of the plot and still have it be interesting?  Yeah, probably so, but I think that would take a defter hand than mine.  Also, I’m sure that there’s plenty of people who don’t care and just want Bella and Edward to bone in their awkward, completely not messed up way.  And the people who like that are just fine.  They know what they like.  I know what I like.  Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop ragging on Twilight though.  You can only expect so much acceptance and tolerance from me.

 


WordKeeperAlpha Update – August 2015

Oif. I promised an update a week ago, but then life happened.  Life happened all over me.  Long story short, we’re buying a house! Woo! Yay! Huzzah! Really, both Katie and me are super excited and we can’t wait to get the move over with and start making the place our own, but its going to be a lot of work.  Unfortunately, my work on WordKeeperAlpha is going to take a little hit while we’re in the process of packing up all our stuff, cleaning, moving, so on and so forth.

It won’t take too much of a hit though.  I’ve been doing some really exciting work on the Goals and Projects lately.  I know, I know.  Didn’t I just get done revamping the Goals? Well, yes.  And aren’t they displaying a lot better now?  What I’m doing now will give you much more control over your goals, and give you more information.  Here’s a sample:

 

Screen shot of the new goals page The new sexy

 

Some people will go “Whoa! That looks cool!” while I’m sure other people are thinking “So what? How does that help me?”  First off, the keen eye will observe the goal graph on the right side.  This is the graph that you will be able to display on the home page, and eventually your author page.  You will be able to choose what graphs you display on your home page (to a certain point) which has been a major request.

Also, this page is being built completely in Angular.  What’s that mean? It means that the whole thing is going to load faster, AND required a new backend be built to support it.  That new backend is going to be used for a whole slew of new things, including blog support, writing groups and plenty of other nifty features.

The next update isn’t coming for a while yet.  It’s going to be pretty big, though, so very worth the wait, at least in my opinion.  Lets break down the features that are coming (hopefully) before NaNoWriMo kicks off in November.

  • New Goal page, featuring new stats, graphing and increased performance.
  • New Projects page, featuring more stats, graphing and increased performance.
  • Updated About page, featuring easier navigation to find the information that you need faster.
  • Updated Home page. Maybe featuring Angular for increased performance, custom graphs, word logs now editable from here.
  • Full API support. Want your WordKeeperAlpha goals and projects on your blog sidebar? This is the first step.

After all that is done, the next big update will be Social! My plans for social are coming together and will include:

  • An Author page, featuring goal and project progress.
  • Friends! Everyone needs friends and wants to see updates.
  • Writing Groups!  Share goals!
  • Events! I don’t know how this will work yet, but they will be short term little contests to get people writing as much as they can in a short amount of time.

WordKeeperAlpha is going to keep growing, keep getting better and its going to be because of you awesome people.  Are there more features that you want to see?  Leave a comment here, or give me a shout out on Twitter or Facebook.

Would you like to support WordKeeperAlpha?  Consider telling your writer friends about it.  Spread the word and get more people participating!  I’ve seen some really awesome growth over the past year and it makes me just want to push it more and make it even more awesome.  Anything helps: give me a shout out on Twitter or Facebook.  Write a blog post!  Send me your ideas / comments / complaints.  Social isn’t here yet, but we can still all get to know each other.  Has WordKeeperAlpha helped you finish your novel or story?  Let me know, I’d love to hear what you found the most useful.

Thanks for using WordKeeperAlpha!  I’ll keep you updated as to the status of the next update.


I got a reply from Representative Brad Ashford

Recently, I poked all the state representatives and senators about upcoming Net Neutrality legistlation that the telecoms have snuck into next year’s, must pass, funding bill.  And Ashford send me a response.  I know, it’s a form letter, but the return address seemed legit.  He may never actually read my thoughts on his response, but that doesn’t mean you lovely people can’t!  Here’s his response:

Dear Seth,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding net neutrality. I appreciate your interest in issues affecting our country and state.

The internet was built to be an equal distribution system. Net neutrality is an effort to solidify the internet as a neutral vehicle for data transfer, as in sending and receiving emails, streaming video, conducting commerce, etc. Concerns have been raised about network providers placing restrictions or discriminatory practices on their networks for different content.

I support an open internet, and oppose blocking, throttling, or the creation of “fast lanes.” We need to foster an open and transparent broadband infrastructure for all Nebraskans, which can grow our economy, and enhance our lives. However, we must be careful not to burden businesses with excessive regulation as this may stunt their vital investment in telecommunication infrastructure.

Again, thank you for sharing your concerns with me. As always, I am open to learning more from you and I appreciate you taking the time to express your views. You may find more useful resources for keeping up with my work by visiting my website https://ashford.house.gov/. I am honored to represent you in Congress.

Sincerely,

Brad Ashford
Member of Congress

And here is what I have to say in response to the honorable Representative:

Representative Ashford,

The telecom industry seems to be remarkably unconcerned with “investing in telecommunication infrastructure” so I don’t really see how regulating them so they are less able to take advantage of their near monopoly will do any harm.  Where I live, right in the middle of downtown Omaha, I have exactly one choice if I want high speed internet, advertised to me with the term “up to 100mbps” and I am luck most days to receive 20 mbps.  In fact, I don’t think I have, even once in two years as their customer seen 100mbps, even when I was paying for 150.  That’s it. I choose Cox, or I don’t get high speed internet.

Combine that with Time Warner and Comcast bringing lawsuits against cities that wish to build their own fiber network that provide reliable gigabit speeds for the same price I’m paying for 20 mbps because its “anti-competitive” and I have remarkably little concern for how these multi-billion dollar industries are burdened by regulation.  I’m a web developer, so my livelihood is closely related to the well being of the internet.  Not only do I develop web sites for the University of Nebraska, but I also am trying to get a web page of my own off the ground.  Seeing the telecom industry actively avoiding investing in infrastructure, and then attempting to keep others from doing so all while saying they should be protected from regulation so they can invest in infrastructure is infuriating.

We know the amount of money that the telecoms spend in Washington every year, and we see bills like this one keep coming up, with protections and considerations for the telecoms, but not for anyone else.  It may not be you, Representative, but its the system and I’m tired of it.  The massive profits of corporations like Time Warner and Comcast do not need your protection, we your constituents do.  We don’t need to avoid regulating the telecoms, we need to place incentives to drive competition.  I need two more (minimum) options to get high-speed internet where I live.  That, and only that, will encourage Cox, Time Warner and the other service providers to bring new technology like fiber to Nebraska at an affordable price…or at least get them to stop lying to me about the service they provide for the ridiculous price they charge me for it.  Don’t keep the telecoms in mind when you’re voting, keep me in mind, because you’re representing me, not the telecoms.

-Seth Swanson

Like I said…he’ll probably never read a word of it.  But just maybe he will, and maybe … Nah.  It’ll be ignored because, really, do I have millions of dollars and thus any influence at all?  Nope.  Oh well, on with the day.

The Andromeda Strain – Reread

When you’re graduating from reading young adult novels into more meatier fair, Michael Crichton is pretty much the perfect author to cut your teeth on. At least, he was back in the 90’s before the young adult genre exploded all over every dystopian future that ever existed. He was one of the first authors I read that didn’t write what amounted to Christian fan-fiction. No, Michael Crighton wrote about cloned dinosaurs, and alien artifacts under the ocean, and SO MUCH DEATH!

 

T-Rex roaring Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus Christ?

 

Rereading of one of my old favorite authors may seem like it might be connected to a recent Hollywood smash hit…but its not.  It’s simple ADHD in my Audible purchases last month.  They must have just re-released a bunch of the old audio books, because all of a sudden my recommended queue was full of Michael Crighton best sellers.  And one caught my eye.  Not the one with hungry dinosaurs, but rather the one with so many people dying from an alien virus: The Andromeda Strain.  I remember reading it when I was a kid, shortly after watching Outbreak and just gobbling it up.  To this day, my favorite kind of disaster / thriller is of the disease running rampant variety.

Just so’s you know, this is kind of a review of the audio book as well.  I actually do a lot of my reading via audio book, because it means I can code and read at the same time.  Also, I commute so basically I’m consuming stories all the time.  So, audio books, valid reading in my opinion.  If you don’t think so you can go to someone else’s blog and complain.

Anyway.  The Andromeda Strain was one of Crighton’s earlier novels, published in 1969 aaaaannnnnd it kind of shows. Crighton never wanted to be associated with the Science Fiction crowd, even though he was writing science fiction, if not straight up fantasy, but he wanted to be considered main stream and not genre.  Still, the science fiction vibe is strong with this.  Now, since the novel is fracking 46 years old, spoiler warnings don’t apply.  Really.  There’s a statute of limitations on these things.

For those who aren’t familiar, and have read my previous notice, The Andromeda Strain is about a team of doctors assigned to study an alien microbe that attached itself to a crashed satelite and killed at town out in Arizona.  Mistakes are made, the virus mutates, a couple more people die and it all comes down to the line at the end with our heroes almost destroyed by a nuclear detonation that would have kicked off World War 3 AND caused infinite propagation of the viruus.  Crighton has all sorts of elements in play here, talking at length about, what was, at the time, cutting edge technology, cold war paranoia, kinda-maybe valid science circa the 1970’s, and lots … and LOTS of description.

The big question is, did I enjoy the book? Yeah. It’s still a decent read.  But did I enjoy it as much as when I was a kid? Not really.  Having learned a lot more about writing and the construction of a good story, I’m finding its easier to pick things apart, and find ways to improve upon them.  For instance, The Andromeda Strain has a really, freaking slow start.  Crighton devotes a ton of time to explaining the Wildfire Initiative (the organization put together just in case an alien microbe ever started killin’ folks).  He talks about the history, the people involved, the facility they had built, and on and on before we even get our group of heroic doctors together.

The narrative skips between all of the doctors, who each kind of screw up equally in causing the near disaster, which is what drives most of the story.  And this is a great thing! It’s the good part.  But we don’t even interact with them until we’re several chapters in.  This is a book that really should have started, mid-crisis, as a tired and confused Dr. Mark Hall is dragged out to the Wildfire facility with little explanation, and then caught up on the shit that’s going down as they go through the quarantine levels.  They spend a lot of time talking about the quarantine levels of the Wildfire Facility… and very little story happens.  Its just kind of there for its own sake, because none of the things they go through impact the story in any real way.  The only thing that actually matters is the nuclear fail-safe, that only Mark has the key to for science reasons that they also explain in detail but aren’t really important.

 

4 doctors, standing side by side Three of these people made a terrible mistake.

 

But, in the end, it’s the nuclear fail-safe that might prove to be every bodies undoing, since they discover the virus would mutate uncontrollably and probably destroy all life on earth, if exposed to the energy of a nuclear detonation.  So, of course, the virus escapes containment, triggers the auto-destruct, and they have to abort the detonation sequence, which only Dr. Mark Hall can do.  Only, he can’t, because the government contractors who built the facility forgot to put the required number of safety stations into the place. Thriller!

No, it really is kind of tense there at the end…but not really because of the virus.  It mutates into a form that is deadly to polymers (a new technology!) but not to organic life.  So, its able to escape, but since it isn’t a threat anymore, its a non-issue once the bomb is defused.  In my mind, this is the weakest part of the book, since it literally means that, if no one had done anything at all, the threat would have passed and no one would have known.  The protagonists have literally nothing to do with solving the main conflict in the book.  The threat just goes away.

While The Andromeda Strain does take a while to get going, and has kind of a disappointing ending, it is still a pretty good read.  Although there are a few things kind of common to a Michael Crighton story; chiefly, the “person who does something sciency that everyone around them should realize is the dumbest thing ever”.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the idiot who kept breeding raptors, even after they discovered how magnificently deadly they were to have at a theme park, like hiring a guy to be Mickey Mouse even after you learn he’s a cannibal.  In The Andromeda Strain, it’s a general in charge of coming up with new biologic agents to use as bio-weapons, but darn it, they run into a wall and can’t create anything deadly enough from what’s on earth.  He read a paper that said there were probably super dangerous organisms in space, just waiting to be brought to earth that no one would have any resistance to and extremely hard, if not impossible, to cure.  So, this moron comes up with an idea to send satellites into space with the sole purpose of bringing back one of these super bugs, and NO ONE FIRES HIM ON THE SPOT! Or even protests.  His success condition is exactly the problem in the book…that still magically solves itself.  In the epilogue, no one mentions this guy getting fired into space himself…he apparently suffers no consequences.  Also, none of the main characters wonder just how someone that stupid could put on his own clothes in the morning, let alone be put in charge of a multi-billion dollar defense initiative.  Probably because Russia was just that scary?

Still, for all its faults, The Andromeda Strain is a decent read.  This is pretty much establishing Crichton’s great pattern of “kinda-science, isolation, people dying” but you’ll be able to tell its pretty dated.  I, for one, am happy that we don’t have automated doctor drones as standard in every doctor’s office, as was predicted. Now, every one go wash your hands.  And for Crichton’s sake, don’t use antibacterial soap.  We’ve got enough trouble with space rabies without all you people making super-bacteria here on earth! Put that anti-bacterial gel down! I’m watching you.