Saturday, December 6, 2008

Deceptive tree heights

We went Christmas shopping today. We've been going to the same lot for years, and in what has become a family tradition, we always look for the biggest tree with a good shape. We like big trees, and the room where we put the tree has an angled ceiling that is quite tall on one side. This trip was particularly significant because it was likely to be the last time we got to pick a tree with Sarah there (though next year we may videoconference her so she can help choose--what geeks, eh?).

Before we made it to the edge of the lot, a monster beckoned us. Even leaning against a fence railing, it towered over the others. It was wide enough that it took three of us standing side by side, as you can see in this picture, to match its width.

In this picture, though, the tree doesn't look that tall. We honestly thought we could fit it in our room.

If you're wondering, by the way, why I don't pose for more pictures, this shot could help you understand. I look like an axe murderer who just lost his axe. I do not relax well or smile well for photos.

Anyway, to continue our tale, we then proceeded to debate the merits of purchasing this tree. Several things were going against it. It weighed hundreds of pounds and would not fit through our front door. It also would not fit in our rather enormous tree stand, because as you can see in this photo, the base of its trunk was roughly the size of an elephant's foot. (Yes, we have a yard-wide, forty-pound, reinforced steel industrial Christmas tree stand. I told you we like big trees.)

After much discussion, we all had to admit that we simply could not get this tree into our house. So, we abandoned it and went for the second largest tree on the lot, one that looked tiny by comparison. We like our new tree, but we left the lot convinced we had purchased a tiny little wisp of a Christmas tree and feeling like wimps who had boarded the Christmas tree failboat.

Then we set it up in our room.

It's the biggest tree we've had in a few years. As this picture shows, using roughly five-and-a-half-feet-tall (in shoes) Allyn for comparison, and with Holden deciding at the last moment to provide some width measurement help, this is a very big tree. I took this shot right after we set it up, so the tree hasn't fully spread yet. It will definitely be a nice, large tree.

I now have to believe that had one of our schemes worked, had we been able to hire a team of men with a huge truck to bring the other tree into our house, the thing would have been too tall to fit in our usual tree spot and way too heavy for our stand to support it. We could have fixed the latter, of course, by buying an even more enormous and expensive stand--and we were up for doing that--but short of removing our kitchen island and filling the entire kitchen with a tree, we would have been out of luck.

So, we were wise to go with the small tree that actually proved to be rather large.

The budget box is still kicking my butt

Yeah, the stack of bills keeps growing, and I keep doing other things--like work, writing, and trying to survive. This weekend, though, I will conquer it. I pretty much have to take care of it, because I leave for Portland very early Monday morning. One consequence of having to overcome this major hurdle, which will take about ten hours of work, is that I will not be writing long entries this weekend. Sorry.

For those following the progress of Overthrowing Heaven, Dave's given me all his input, I think it's fair to say he liked it (he'll correct me if I'm wrong), and I am continuing to plow ahead with my on-paper editing. I'm continually amazed at all the things I need to improve on this pass, but so it goes; the book will be better for this work.

Wish me luck as I climb budget mountain.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rethinking my relationship with my car

I've now owned and driven a Prius for almost two months, and the experience is causing me to think differently about my car and my relationship to it. What's causing this change is not the fact that the car is a hybrid; instead, it's some of the tech in the car.

For example, the default for the central display is to show you your current fuel consumption. You accelerate hard, and down goes your MPG. Take it slow and easy, and you might keep MPG high. I frankly suck at this aspect of driving, and as a result Bill is kicking my butt in the MPG race: In cold weather, he averages around 47 MPG, while I'm at 38 or 39. I am, though, trying, and not just for the good of the environment; the display is encouraging me to try.

I've also found that I've quickly come to expect and rely on the way the Prius recognizes you from your key fob. You never use a key; you just keep the key fob on you. I put it in my pocket in the morning and never touch it again. Put your hand in the driver's door, and that door unlocks. Put your hand in the front passenger door, and the whole car unlocks. When you get out, you press a little black button on either door (or the rear lift handle, which will also recognize you and unlock), and you've locked the car.

In effect, the car has joined my personal network of devices--and I haven't even yet mated my iPhone to the car's Bluetooth speaker system!

Now, when I go to drive one of our other cars, they feel dumb; I mean, I have to insert a key. What's up with that?

In another example, I have for years been a militant fan of stick shifts. Not only is the Prius an automatic, it almost has no shift at all--just a little nubbin of a knob on the dash to the right of the wheel, like a vestigial appendage a creature no longer really needs. The car doesn't want you to shift, because it knows it'll do a better job--and the odds are that it's right.

Though I do sometimes still long for heavy metal, raw speed, and street racing, all in all, I quite like the car. It really is moving me away from being an active driver and toward being a passenger. After all, if it can do all this, why can't it finish the job and drive me to work while I nap or, more likely, do email?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bruce and Jon

Jon Moore, the hero of my current novel series, has a tie to Bruce Springsteen that I thought folks might like to know.

When I wrote the first Jon story, "My Sister, My Self," lo these many years ago, I was aiming for a sense of profound loss. The side of the Springsteen album, The River--and I was listening to an album, not a CD--that contained the song, "The River," echoed the feelings of loss I wanted. So, I put that side on repeat on my turntable and started on the story. I wrote the entire story, all passes, in two four-hour evening sessions, and I played the same album side the whole time. It emptied the house, but it faded into an emotional background noise that really worked for me.

I even used a quote from the song at the start of the story. I got paid something like six cents a word for the story, or whatever the going rate was at Asimov's at the time, and I had to pay Springsteen twenty-five bucks for the right to the fifteen words of his that I quoted; it's easy to spot the richer writer, eh?

I've listened to a lot of music while writing the subsequent Jon & Lobo tales, but I still recall and love that song and associate it with my first professional sale--and the first Jon story.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Initial thoughts on the iPhone 3G

On Sunday, I bought a new iPhone 3G and transitioned my mobile number to it. (Later that night, I reset the old one and gave it to Scott, who wanted to use it as an almost iPod Touch, in which role it works well.) Having now used the thing for a couple of days, I thought I'd give you my initial impressions.

First, I think it's a bit better as a phone than the iPhone, which frankly was a mediocre phone at best, a real C student. I'd give the 3G a solid B on this front.

The 3G data network is a definite improvement anywhere it's available. I still wish that Apple had signed with Verizon instead of AT&T, but what iPhone user doesn't? Web pages download faster, email is snappier, and the thing is just nicer to use. It does, though, still lose its email brain from time to time, at which point it tries forever to connect but can never get email from either of my accounts. Powering it down and back up will fix this problem, but that's an annoying issue I was hoping the 3G network might somehow help.

The most annoying aspects of the 3G are the omissions that it shares with all iPhones, such as no ability to cut and paste. Come on, Apple, get your iPhone developers working on the items users want most!

The transition between iPhones was also nowhere near as good as it should have been. I had to re-enter all my email account settings, none of my weather cities moved, and none of my stock settings moved. Surely Apple could have backed up and restored these settings.

Overall, though, I like it.

And now, because it's been a while, here's a Blue Rodeo song. Enjoy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The oddest call I've had in a while

I rarely answer my home office phone, because most of the calls to it are from phone solicitors. I pick up the phone when the caller ID display shows me that someone I know is trying to reach me, and I also answer when the number is local, just in case it's a business or person trying to reach someone else in the house.

Today, I answered a call from a local number, and this is how the conversation went:

Me: Hello.
Female caller: May I please speak to Reginald Cooley?
Me: I'm sorry, but you have the wrong number.
Female caller: Are you sure you're not Reginald Cooley?
Me: Yes.
Female caller: Sir, are you one hundred percent sure you're not Reginald Cooley?
Me: Yes, yes, I am, and I'm going to hang up now.
Which I did.

From the sound of the woman, Reginald is in some kind of trouble, and he must be screening his calls.

That said, how desperate to reach someone do you have to be to ask a complete stranger not once but twice if he is sure he's not that person? Does this strategy ever work? If I were Reginald Cooley, would I ever break under the pressure of the second question?

Female caller: Sir, are you one hundred percent sure you're not Reginald Cooley?
Me: Now that you mention it, I'm not entirely certain. I might be Reginald Cooley.
Nah, I don't think so.

Reginald, dude, if you're reading this, my advice to you is simple: don't answer your phone--and please stop giving out my number.

How do you grow your readership?

At a lovely birthday celebration dinner tonight, a friend asked me this question. I've heard the same query from beginning writers and other friends, so I thought I'd give my answer here.

Short form: You don't. You write the best book you can, and then you write the next book.

Long form: Lots of writers will give you tons of advice about marketing yourself. I think they're probably right that putting in a lot of energy can help you sell more books. I'm just not convinced that they can help you sell tons more books. That's the publisher's job, and though you can indeed do many different things to help, I suspect most of them won't nudge the needle on overall sales.

I believe you can try to find a publisher that will promote you, because what a publisher can do for you--better bookstore placement, to name but one example--is way more important than what you can do on your own. The sad truth for most of us, however, is that publishers have limited budgets, too, and they have to invest their marketing dollars where those dollars will bring the greatest return. In addition, as newer writers we're hardly in a position to insist our publishers do anything.

As writers, there's really only one thing we can control: our work. I think that's where our focus should be. Hence the short form of my answer: Write the best book you can. Then write the next book.

I'm going to return to doing the first part now. With luck, the result, Overthrowing Heaven, will be a book that grows my readership. Regardless of the sales, however, I'll be busily writing the next novel and trying to make it the best book I can.


Blog Archive