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.

 


Fight for the Net: Round Frickin’ 3

I’m getting really tired of this bull shit.  We’re still 16 months out from the next presidential election, there’s five hundred republican candidates for congress, all of whom yammer on and on about “people”, “freedom”, and “protecting individual rights” but then we get crap like the fight over Net Neutrality.  How can any of you Tea Party losers even claim to support the people when the only reason this is a fight is because Comcast and Verizon spend hundreds of millions for lobbying (read bribes) in Washington.

Politicians. I’m looking at all of you. It is your job to protect us against giant corporations that just want to bend us over the barrel and shake us until all our money comes out.  I considered another analogy, but its less family friendly.  I’m sick of this.  I’m sick of you hypocrites pretending that you care about the American people.  You say one thing, then provably do another.  The American people want Net Neutrality.  We crashed the FCC’s servers telling you that in an OVERWHELMING volume.  You do, what we tell you to. Period. End of sentence. I don’t care how much the service providers contribute to your campaign donations.

The last few years have made it abundantly clear who has influence in Washington, and its not the people.  Between SOPA, PIPA, the latest trade agreement debacle and Net neutrality, its clear that our representatives and senators aren’t looking out for our interests.  They’re looking out for the corporate interests. So, bring pressure on these jerks. It only takes a few minutes. Write to your senators and representatives.  Come election day, remember who sold you to Comcast, then also remember how much fun you had the last time you called Time Warner Cable.  It’s time for politicians to remember who they work for.


My thoughts on paranormal romance / urban fantasy.

Here’s the mix: Take one private investigator, add city, mix with magic, vampires, werewolves and three tablespoons of fae.  Shake vigorously and let stand for three hundred pages.  Sprinkle generously with interesting personalites and serve with a side of sweet violence and sexual tension.  Feel free to substitute the first ingredient with a druid, necromancer, or whatever you have on hand.  Add grimdark to taste.  Enjoy!

Personally, I cut my teeth on Anita Blake, advanced to Harry Dresden (who just isn’t showing up as regularly as he used to), walked planes with Atticus O’Sullivan, with side helpings of anyone else who could keep my interest for a few books.  While I wouldn’t say that my taste is indiscriminate, I have sampled pretty widely in the genre.  Where there are series that I wait all year … sometimes multiple years (I’m looking at you Butcher!) for the next book in the series, there are others that just don’t catch me.  Maybe its the tone? Maybe its world?  Usually its the main character.  We’ll get into that.

Then there’s … paranormal romance. On the surface it looks like urban fantasy.  The book blurb on the back reads like it, but you probably know what you’re getting by the fifth chapter.  I know, I know…plenty of people love paranormal romance… but thus far I haven’t been able to make it through one.  I’m not saying that the genre’s bad.  Just like the corset and lace romance genre isn’t bad, in and of itself.  It just isn’t for me.  But, I’m a human being, and as such, I have … opinions.  And why have a blog if I don’t use it to toss an opinion or two out into the wild, where it can hurt some unsuspecting reader, here from WordKeeperAlpha?

So, paranormal romance, why can’t you keep my interest? Tropes.  You are just drowning in your tropes, and they make a hot sticky mess.  First and foremost: is the Perfect Female Protagonist’.  I don’t mean strong, I mean perfect, also known as a Mary Sue character.  Does the main character start off as a mousey nerd, but inside of six months is challenging established power houses within the world, making her a badass?  Does she master the katana (has to be a katana) in a short amount of time? Win the instant respect of beings who are ages older than her?

This isn’t even about the protagonist being female.  I LOVE me a kick ass woman main character.  Like I said, I got my start with the first five novels of the Anita Blake series.  All I ever wanted was Anita to stick around being a bad ass, killing monsters, taking names and … well, things got weird.  I had to start reading other books.  This isn’t a “I don’t like women as main characters thing” this is a “I don’t like main characters who are unrealistically perfect”.  

If further fairness, Anita Blake both spoiled and ruined me.  Ever since I hit that weird point in Anita Blake I’ve been looking for a main character who can take her place.  As a result, I’ve looked into a lot of series that, on the book synopsis, looked like urban fantasy, but turned out to be paranormal romance.  There is no disappiontment so harsh as expecting Anita Blake and getting Bella from Twilight.  Does she have a last name?  Bah! So, please, consider PFP to also be PMP, because I’m sure those are out there….probably angels or alpha werewolves of something.

Anita was great because she started off scared of so many things.  She knew that, even though she was a badass, compared to what she hunted she was pretty weak.  That means she had to be smart … or insanely brave … or have friends to back her up or just to scrape out no matter what.  Dresden’s kind of the same way.  He starts out a little fish in a very big pond, and some of the other fish that … ok, the fish metaphore is weird in this case.  Both Dresden and Anita are both their best when they’re out of their depth and if they get any respect it is grudgingly given.

The PFP/PMP enters the world of the paranormal either already Wolverine (the best at what he/she does) or as little Annakin (look at the MIDICHLORIANS on this one!).  Neither one of these is bad in and of itself…but when title character is already the best, there’s no where left to go.  Unless you tear them down to their roots and let them start again (this statement is in no way indicitive of what I’m writing now).  Its why I’m not a huge Superman fan, at least not classic Superman.  He’s been too good.  Too perfect.  And that’s just boring.

Wow…ok. So that went on for a bit longer than I thought it would.  I’ve got other things to talk about that seem to run rampant in paranormal romance, but if I went into them now, I’d be here all night.  Sounds like we’ve got the makings of a series!  Finally, something to talk about on my blog that’s actually writing related!  **does a little dance**  **falls**  **dies**

So, I’ve probably angered some people.  Here’s your chance to prove me wrong. Do you know a good paranormal romance book?  Something with a great MC, male or female, who just makes the book or story for you?  Leave a comment and I’ll try it out.  Really, just because I haven’t found my cup of tea yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.  Educate me.

Honestly, I just want someone to leave me a comment.  I’m so lonely here.  So quiet and alone.