Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

5/12/2017

Character Records

Filed under: Fun,On Creativity,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Keeping your dramatis personae straight can be a chore.

Back in the day, when I played Dungeons and Dragons, my favorite part of the game was creating characters. I know, it’s weird, but, there it is. I don’t know what it was about filling out the forms, either the ones we created or the fancy pre-printed ones you could buy, that used to entertain me so, but it did. It’s funny, because I don’t like filling out other kinds of forms, but I do still get nostalgic about character record sheets. Years later, when computers became an essential part of role-playing games, there were even programs that did most of that work for you. I enjoyed them, too, even though I had stopped playing years before. There’s something about codifying and quantifying an imaginary character that just appeals to me, I guess.
That odd propensity carries over a bit into figuring out characters for fiction. Though, I have to admit, I tend to do more character generation than actual story-telling, too. It’s a bad habit, I suppose, but one I’m happy to encourage in others.
And, that brings me to the links I’m sharing with you, dear readers, this week.
First, there’s the Character Chart from Rebecca Sinclair. It’s a good, complete informational form to fill out so that you can get to know your characters in detail. Even if you never use them in your story, knowing the details of a character makes them feel more real to you, and your readers. A better version, in my opinion, of that chart, is the downloadable, fillable character chart, which takes that questionaire and makes it a fillable PDF form. It’s pretty excellent.
And, since a character’s starting equipment was always one of the most important, and fun, things to work out, I whipped up the Random Fantasy Pocket “Liter” Generator and, for more modern settings, the Random Daily Carry Generator. These also feed into some of my favorite kinds of stories, wherein the protagonist finds themselves in the thick of the action, in media res, if you will, and only has what they’re carrying on them at the moment to survive their adventure.
And, finally, the oddball link. This is really meant, I think, for genealogists, but if you’re writing a sweeping epic and need to keep track of an extended family, the Family Echo family tree creator is a nifty free tool to help you out. If you want to save your trees, you need to make an account, but the hassle may just be worth it to keep track of your fictional family.

So, there you have it. A somewhat random collection of writing links for your Friday fun. And forgive me if that doesn’t work for you, but my wife and I are closing on our mortgage refinance today, so I’m a little distracted.
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

4/7/2017

Blog Posts

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Geek Work,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

My creative blog posting well is dry.

So dry.
Seriously, if you count my original blog, I have been doing this blogging nonsense for almost 17 years. My first blog post went live May 4th, 2000. How crazy is that?  Back then, I hand coded every page, making the HTML myself with Microsoft Notepad.  Then, I installed Moveable Type.  That was followed by a definite upgrade to WordPress during the great licensing debacle of 2004.  So, yes, I’ve been using WordPress since version 1.2  A lot has changed since then, but I can tell you one thing that hasn’t; the terrible struggle to create new and interesting content.
My wife, The Organizing Decorator, and I were talking about this very thing recently.  She just finished moving her site to her own hosting and content management system, so that I wasn’t responsible for her site as well as all of mine, and she told me how she need to stop tweaking and tampering with it.  My response was that it was a lot easier to mess with formatting than it was to actually create content.  And, after 17 years, I’m really feeling tapped out.

So, what’s my response?  To share with you two links about generating content!
First, a post from the very brainy and entrepreneurial Growth Lab titled How to find 20+ blog ideas your audience can’t wait to read.  It’s a process, but it’s a process that will help you generate content tailored to your blog, brand, or business.
The other is How To Think Outside The Box with 200+ writing prompts by CoSchedule.  And, it’s just what it sounds like, a list of prompts with blanks to get you started on a blog post.  They’re pretty generic, but they may not all be applicable to your chosen subject matter.

Well, there you have it.  Two links that are free and useful, if not exactly “fun” for non-bloggers or content producers.
Maybe I’ll have something better for you next week.
Maybe not.  Only time will tell.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

3/31/2017

Free Public Domain Photography Books

Filed under: Art,Photography,The Infinite Library — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

You know how I like free.

I started out the year talking big about stepping up my photography, but, honestly, between a new job, my wife’s business, and trying to refinance our house to get a better mortgage rate before they go up, I just haven’t done that. I still intend to, eventually. Honest.
In the mean time, however, I have been stacking up ebooks on photography in my queue. I always hope that if I can read enough about the art and science of photography, I’ll get motivated and get out with my camera more often. We’ll see how that goes, especially considering how backed up my reading queue is these days. At least, I didn’t spend a lot of money on my latest batch of photography books. And, if you’re looking for some free alternatives to inspire your own photographic I have good news for you, Project Gutenberg has hundreds of free, public-domain photography books digitized for you to load up on. They have everything from the really old developing and printing processes that photographers used to use to books of actual photography for raw inspiration.

In any case, they’re all free and, hopefully, interesting enough to get a fellow stuck photographer inspired enough to get going again.
Enjoy and we’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

3/17/2017

Writing Habit Help

Filed under: Art,Fun,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I wish I hadn’t gotten out of the habit of writing every day.

But, well, life happened. I got a job which became a career which quickly became a life that included responsibilities like car payments and mortgage payments and health insurance. Not to mention a wife and kid, followed by a divorce, health problems and the bills that come with it, and a new wife and all that entails. At some point in there, there just wasn’t time for writing. Now, I’ve lost the habit of it. My schedule revolves around trying to work off the extra weight I put on eating all the delicious food my blushing bride makes me and trying to get to work on time.
Yes, I do manage to write these weekly notes with a few free links in them, but, honestly, that’s not really writing. Not the way I mean it.
But, if you’re like me and you harbor that hard-to-kill dream of one day writing again, this week’s links are for you, starting with Get Back Into Writing by a blogger who calls herself Verily Mary. I haven’t read the other resources she promised, but you may find her encouraging words, well, encouraging. One thing that might help is knowing that if you write 750 words per day, you’ll have written about three pages worth of whatever you’re working on. And, if you need help staying motivated to do that, you can try using the on-line app 750 Words. It’s based on some ideas found in The Artist’s Way and will give you stats on your writing which you may, or may not, find inspiring. And, everything you write, they claim, will stay private.
Finally, if you do get a manuscript produced, Lara Willard has some great advice on formatting your manuscript for submittal in the modern world.

Beyond that, there’s no substitute for sitting down and doing the work. Maybe one day I can get back to that. Knowing that my blushing bride supports me will help, for sure, but she can’t do the work for me. I have ideas, one day maybe my life will slow down enough that I can share them.
Until then, keep coming back here for more of whatever this is!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

3/10/2017

Ambient Sci-Fi Sound

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

I love me some ambient, sci-fi atmosphere!

For you poor souls who are regular readers know I am a little obsessed with science fiction. And, I also am on a constant quest for the perfect background sounds to keep me from cracking up in the silence, without getting to “into” what I’m listening to at the moment. I think that started with an ex who used a white noise machine at night, which started me using one. Eventually, though, when I was travelling, I started using my phone. I tried a number of white noise generator apps, but the most fun was one that had science fiction sounds. It was good, mostly, but pretty limited. Now, though, there’s an alternative; 42 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner, Alien, Star Trek and Doctor Who Will Help You Relax & Sleep.

A sound artist who goes by the on-line name of “Cheesy Nirvosa” has been creating these ambient sci-fi soundscapes since 2009 and they are absolutely fantastic. Now you can fall asleep to the comforting background noise of Rick Deckard’s apartment from Blade Runner. Or, use it as background noise while you work on your latest science fiction masterpiece! You can head over to Cheesy Nirvosa’s YouTube channel and play them from there in your browser or even download shorter loops. You can also find “real world” loops like the ambient sounds of a nuclear submarine, which sound surprisingly similar to some of the spacecraft. And, if you want to cut out the middle-man, so to speak, and just download the MP3s, you can check out Cheesy Nirvosa’s Bandcamp, where, for a few dollars each, you can buy the sound files to play on the digital device of your choice. (Don’t tell my wife, but I think I’m going to get a couple!)

Anyway, it’s been the kind of week that leaves me wanting to sooth my nerves, and these seem like a good start.
Y’all enjoy your weekend and come back next week for more!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

2/10/2017

Neon Flames

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

It’s like finger-painting with stars.

You know how there are all those studies that say coloring is good for adults? That it helps us manage stress and all that? Well, I believe them. I have found that a little bit of coloring really has taken the edge off for me. I’m not quite as convinced about some of the smartphone apps or the programs, but, I suppose, if it works for you, then great. And, I know that general doodling has helped me relax, too. When I was a kid, I would just scribble out shapes and creatures and faces and whatever came to mind. It was, if you will, a form of self-soothing. Guess what? I found a new internet toy that does the same thing; Neon Flames. And, yes, it’s just like finger-painting with stars and nebulae. It’s super simple, and free. Just click on a color, then click and drag your mouse over the black background and watch. Just go play with it.

And, as a side note, I can actually see a use for it as a background creator. Maybe even as the background for the cover of that self-published science-fiction ebook you’ve been meaning to write. (Or is that just me?)

Anyway, it’s free and fun and a great way to waste a little time.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/3/2017

Pretty Pictures

Filed under: Art,Fun,Photography — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

So, I’m not quite done with the photography links.

Seriously, though, I’m working on some other things to share. I promise. Still, I have this one last thing from last month to share with you.
We all like to look at beautiful things, right? And free things are great, too, aren’t they? What about free things that are beautiful to look at? Yeah, pretty much the sweet-spot of ways to waste time on a Friday. So, that’s what I’ve got for you. Free photography that’s pretty much gorgeous. And, I really mean free. You can do whatever with these photos without worrying about violating some poor photographer’s copyright and stealing money from their family. Trust me, it’s cool.
The site is Unsplash. And, it’s just what I said. Beautiful photography, for free.

Go look.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

12/16/2016

Social Fixer

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Fix your social media.

I know my post for the past couple of weeks have been pretty random, but, hey, it’s the end of the year and I’ve been cleaning out old links.
I’ve noticed since I’ve been mostly off of Facebook this year, I’ve been more relaxed.  My stress about the election, I think, has been considerably less than most of the people I know.  This can’t be a coincidence.  In fact, I’m sure they’re related.  Facebook, for the most part, adds nothing to my life.  There’s always been too much there for me to keep up with anyway, not to mention all the rage-inducing exchanges I’ve had with people who seem incapable of listening to reason or forming a cogent argument about anything.
Still, I understand the addiction.  It’s hard to turn away from that flow of apparent social interaction once you get hooked.  And, of course, there are legitimate reasons to connect there, like the movie groups my wife belongs to on Facebook.  So, how do you avoid all the cruft that makes you crazy?  Well, if you’re a Firefox (or Chrome) user, there’s a fix for that: Social Fixer.

Social Fixer is a free Greasemonkey script that let’s you hide sponsored posts, advertising, political posts, pages you don’t want to see and more.  Yes, you have to install the Greasemonky add-on first, but other than that, it’s pretty straight forward.  And, it’s the personal project of a regular guy who had the same frustrations as you and I, so you don’t have to worry about more corporate sponsors and greed ruining the fun.  And, if you’d like, you can make donations, but it’s not a requirement to use the tool.

So make your social media great again and clean up your Facebook with Social Fixer!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

12/12/2016

Another Year Older, And …

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

… hopefully wiser. But, who’s to say, really?

I don’t think it’s an accident that my birthday fell on a Monday this year, because, I’ll tell you, it’s felt a little bit like a year of Mondays!
Still, I’ve survived another lap around the Sun, and that’s something to celebrate, especially considering how close I’ve come to not making it this far. But, now that I have made it through cancer and a lot of my own foolishness, the actuarial tables indicate I can still expect quite a few more years of misadventures. In fact, if I’m reading the most recent Social Security actuarial table for my sex and birth year, I can expect to live until I’m somewhere between 70 and 107, which is fine with me! Actually, I come from fairly long-lived stock so I have a pretty good reason to believe I’ll be at the higher end of that range, which is also good, since there are still so many things yet to be done with my life.

It’s been a strange year career-wise. I got laid off in February and started working a contract in March, where I’ve worked ever since. In theory, they may eventually hire me on full-time, and there’s even been talk about that, but not a lot of movement in that direction. Still, it’s pretty good income and enough to cover our expenses and COBRA payments, so, for now, it’s okay. Still, if they don’t bring me on full-time sooner rather than later, I may end up having to find something more permanent. You may recall that last year, I got myself a an annual subscription to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, with the idea that I’d improve my photography. So far, that hasn’t happened much. I have done more photos for my wife’s business website, The Organizing Decorator, but I haven’t really done anything for me. This coming year, I plan on changing that. My blushing bride has said that she’d like to have more of my photography to frame and hang around the house, so, thanks to my big drive crash a couple of years ago, that means I have to get my butt off the couch and out photographing things. My favorites have been animals, especially at the Houston Zoo, but I also have some ideas for still life and abstract work, too. I’ve been really inspired by one of my photography heroes, Syl Arena, and his color field photography. They’re really amazing and emotional works and something I’d love to emulate in my own, primative way.

You may recall that last year I mentioned starting the Five Minute Journal. I did it with their pre-printed journal for six months, then, when I filled that, I continued in my own, plain journal. (I used Peter Pauper Essentials Large Notebook. They look like a Moleskine, but they’re much less expensive.)
And, I also started the Five Year Journal, too. Yes, it’s by Samuel Pepys, the most famous diarist of all, but I don’t really think anyone will be interested in my personal diary. Still, Pepys probably thought the same thing. In any case, that’s been going strong for almost a year now and I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon. The Five Minute Journal really has, I think, put me in a more positive frame of mind.
This year, my birthday gift to my self was a rowing machine and an inversion table. I hope to start two new health habits that make the coming years a little easier and more enjoyable. I think it will be worth it. Everyone I know who has one, swears by their inversion table and says that it will help my back. And, according to an article or two I read, a rowing machine is supposed to be about the best full-body workout I can get on a machine. I guess we’ll see! I’ll tell you this, though, I haven’t regretted any of the birthday gifts I’ve gotten myself in the past, and I’m pretty sure this one is going to be okay, too.

And, of course, my birthday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the other famous people who had the good luck to be born on this particular day. Famous people like Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, Jennifer Connelly, Bob Barker, Gustave Flaubert, who is the author of Madame Bovary, the painter Edvard Munch, and Wells Fargo founder, Henry Wells. Not to mention, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Tim Hauser of Manhattan Transfer, Dickey Betts of the Allman Bros, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr, and former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.
All heady company to be sure, but for whatever reason, it tickles me the most that I share a birthday with Frank Sinatra. I guess it’s because he was such a unique and original character who really fought against and beat some long odds to become an amazingly famous, generally well thought of personality. I can only hope to do the same, one day.
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)
And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the computer mouse made its debut just four days before my birth! How crazy is that? The mouse, which makes graphic interfaces so practical and easy to use, is actually four days older than I am!

So, there you have it. Another lap around the Sun completed with a little more joy this year than last. That’s a trend I think I can pretty heartily endorse. I have some work cut out for myself this coming year, with some plans to improve my professional growth by way of computer security certifications, so check back next year to see how that went. Also, in addition to the photography, which you’ll be able to keep up with at my Flickr photostream, I plan to write on the blog a bit more, too. Maybe just once a month more, but still, more. We’ll see how that turns out.

So, all in all, I’m doing pretty good for a forty-eight-year-old cancer survivor who’s on his second marriage and has a mortgage. Life is pretty sweet and I’m looking forward to the coming year and years! I hope you all will be with me for quite a few more!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

12/9/2016

The Most Common Bias

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Cognitive bias is amazingly common, and keeping us from really changing our lives.

One of the things I’ve noticed this year, as I have found myself arguing with people about politics and economics, is how much we are all effected by cognitive bias.  It’s that “gut feeling” that things are, or should be, a certain way, even when actual evidence to the contrary is presented.  I fall for it, too.  The thing that gets me more often than not is the “sunk cost fallacy”, which isn’t a cognitive bias, per se, but still a flaw in my thinking that tells me to keep throwing more effort, or resources, behind what should be an obviously lost cause.  It’s what convinces me that the worthless gear I tend to collect has value even when it’s hopelessly out of date.  It’s a hard one to overcome.

IO9.com has the 12 Cognitive Biases That Keep You From Being Rational, all in a handy, easy-to-read article.
Personally, I fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy all the time, thinking that I can predict outcomes based on past experience.  Really, though, all I’m demonstrating is that I didn’t pay close enough attention in statistics class.  Math wasn’t my best subject in school.  But, because I think a lot, I often fall for the Projection Bias, too.  My wife helps me to remember that not everyone thinks like me, however, which ought to be a relief to regular readers of my blogs!  The one I run into at work more often than not is the Observational Selection Bias, which end users seem to fall prey to any time someone in IT touches their computer and new icons seem to appear from thin air, even though those programs were installed months before.

In any case, it’s definitely worth a look to see where you might try to think outside your usual box in the coming year.  Maybe it will help all of us to think a little differently than we have been!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

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