Diary of a Network Geek

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

9/30/2018

DIY Pop Art Prints

Filed under: Art,Fun,Stimulus and Production,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Like Andy Warhol, but that match your decor.

If you don’t know who Andy Warhol is, this post may not make sense to you. Also, you may not be old enough to be reading my blog. Seriously, though, if you don’t know who he is, please, for the love of art, go look him up.
One of the many things I enjoy about Andy Warhol is that he supported himself and his art via work in advertising. Even well after he was a well-known and successful artist, he kept up his advertising work. I suspect that, like many artists, the regular job provided a sense of security. Either way, he made some of the most incredible modern art. In fact, even if you’re somehow not familiar with the artist, you’ve no doubt seen his Campbell’s Soup Can work, or something that riffs off of it. Or, you’ll have seen some of his other prints, like Marilyn Monroe or the arguably better known Chairman Mao. Those prints all derive from silk screen work that, while complicated to do in his style, is actually a technique well within the grasp of the motivated hobbyist. As a kid I remember watching my older siblings silk screening t-shirts.
And that’s why, this week, I’m sharing Watch how to make prints like Andy Warhol from Boing Boing. At that link you’ll find a really good tutorial on doing just that. It’s only about five minutes long, and obviously only a start on actually doing this entire process, but it’s well worth the look. And, I even know, personally, at least one current artist who’s using this method to produce work, so it’s definitely still viable!
Go check it out and maybe give it a try this weekend!

10/27/2017

NaNoWriMo Prep – Templates and Worksheets

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Trying to get all your ideas and characters organized for National Novel Writing Month? I can help!

It may not always be obvious, especially to those closest to me, but I love being organized. What’s probably more obvious is that I played a lot of role-playing games growing up. I think it’s safe to say almost every hopeful writer or professional geek my age or younger played Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. But, for me, the best part of that was always before the game started when we were making characters and filling out their character record sheets. I absolutely loved thinking about all the things they might buy at the market for use in surviving their adventures. And, along with that, describing their looks, their clothes, their family relationships and other background details. Not everyone did all of that, but, like I mentioned, it was just about my most favorite part. And, now, it’s one of my favorite parts of writing. Unfortunately, it can also become one of my favorite distractions from actually writing. Don’t let that happen to you! But, also, as you’re planning your novel, it’s good to try and think about who’s going to be in it, what they’re going to do and where they’re going to do it. So, toward that end, I’ve got some, hopefully, fun novel planning worksheets, or “printables” as the fancy kids call them these days, for you.
First, from the All Freelance Writing website, I’ve got an article by Jennifer Mattern which collects her favorite Novel Planning Tools and Worksheets. It’s a short list, but it’s also a great place to start if you’re just looking for the bare minimums to get you started.
Much more complete is the list of links gathered by Eva Deverell in her Creative Writing Worksheets post. Frankly, it’s a pretty complete list and you could stop there without worrying about missing out on anything, even if you do have to chase them to all their respective sites.
If you’re a more visual guy, like me, then maybe you should try this collection of “pins” at Pinterest titled “Novel Writing Worksheets”. It’s got a lot of “printables” besides the planning worksheets that might help, especially if you find yourself needing a little help creatively in a crunch.
My personal favorite, however, is the group of Evernote templates for planning your novel (or story) at the Evernote blog. I’m 99% sure I’ve mentioned these before, but they’ve updated them and added a few. If you use Evernote to plan and organize any other aspect of your life, I highly recommend that you take a look at these templates. They’re really well done and should cover any creative writing need. Seriously.

The next question is, of course, what are you going to use to actually write your novel?
If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format. If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead. It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer. And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo. And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator. I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text. I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools. I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs. I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one. Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level. So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers. Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

This post originally appeared at the Fantasist’s Scroll.

7/7/2017

Free Stock

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,Photography,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 Waxing Gibbous

Regular readers know how I love free.

Okay, look, I put this stuff out there week after week and I’m honestly not even sure that anyone ever reads this at all. I don’t know, maybe I just do it to keep the search engines happy, or maybe just out of habit. Worse, maybe I just keep doing it because to stop would mean that this blog and site are meaningless and so is my entire life. Yeah, so best not to think about that and keep posting. Besides, even if I just keep posting this stuff so that I can find it for my own, personal use later, that’s reason enough.
So, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking about my sad and inadequate graphic design skills and how to improve them. Naturally, as a blogger and WordPress user, I thought I might try, yet again, to make a custom theme. Specifically, a prettier child theme of the default twenty-seventeen theme that comes with WordPress. Naturally, I’d want to pretty that up a bit more than I normally do, which means adding graphics. And, until I get better at all that actual graphic stuff, that means I’d use some stock graphics. But, since I’m a cheapskate and a skinflint, according to my ex-wife, I went hunting for free stock sites. I found three that I liked. Or, I found one and then two sites that are either a list of free stock sites or an aggregated search of free stock sites.
The first is a list of 25 “sublime” sites to download free stock images by Sitepoint. And they are 25 great links to great stock photos.
The second is an aggregated stock photo search engine, that also lists some other sites, called furiouscamera.com. Their search is pretty good, though obviously limited, and will also include non-free images, for which they get a percentage, I assume, so watch what you try to use. Still, my searches brought up a good selection.
The third link actually started my search, though it’s also found in the list at furiouscamera.com and is AllTheFreeStock, but it also has a whole lot more there for you, like brand style guides and SEO tools and more. I listed it last because, frankly, there’s so much there it’s kind of overwhelming. If you’re a designer, though, especially for the web, it’s definitely worth a look.

So, there you go. Free stock graphics and photos for your work.
Come back next week to see if I delve even deeper into my existential fears and trauma!

This post first appeared on Use Your Words.

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.

1/20/2017

Building a Great Minimalist Studio

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,Photography,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Another resource for photographers.

I think one of the reasons I initially was interested in photography was because I was shy, but wanted to meet people. I figured that a photographer would meet beautiful people, which seemed like a great idea in my teens and twenties.  Actually, it’s still not a bad idea, except I’m a little less invested in meeting new beautiful people now that I’m married.  Now, I’m strictly interested in the photography.  But, like a lot of amateur photographers, I don’t really have the time, space or money to justify having a big, fancy, dedicated photography studio in my home. I’ve mostly made do with some seamless paper in my garage, which, to be fair, has pretty much worked okay. It worked well enough, in fact, to take not only my LinkedIn profile shot, but also get paid for taking someone else’s LinkedIn headshot.  So, you know, it works well enough.  But, what if you want to go a little farther than that?  What if you want to do more than just the occasional headshot?  Well, my favorite commercial photographer and author of Studio Anywhere, Nick Fancher, has written an article for PetaPixel about just this subject titled You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune to Have a Great Photo Studio.
It’s a great article and shows you some really creative options for a small, but very versatile studio you can use to make some really inspiring photos.
To his article, I’ll only add that you can get really creative with cheap LED lights and shop lights, not to mention rechargeable light bars and automotive lights.  I recently shot some still life photography in my kitchen using a glass shelf and some cheap LED flashlights and was very pleased with the effect.
So, go read his article and see what Nick has to say about textures and space and see if you can’t apply that to your own situation and find some available space for a studio, even if it’s temporary.

But, above all, keep shooting!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

1/6/2017

Daily Photography

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,Photography,Stimulus and Production,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 Waxing Gibbous

I encourage you to indulge in your hobby daily.

My favorite hobby is photography.
I’ve wanted to learn photography since I was in high school, but, until the birth of digital photography, it always felt beyond my reach.  I got interested again because, about ten years ago, someone asked me what I liked to do for fun.  At the time, I was stymied for an answer.  My shock at not having a hobby led me to take a good portion of my savings at the time and buy my first DSLR.  That led me to a Flickr account and some fooling around.  That led me to doing the 365 Project, just as a way to learn my camera.  And, I can tell you, shooting a self-portrait every day for a year straight was an amazing experience.  I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say it was “life changing”, but it sure did make me a lot more comfortable with my camera.
If you’re one of the lucky people who got a new camera for Christmas this year, you may be looking for a project to get your feet wet.  I highly recommend some kind of 365-day project.  If the idea of a self-portrait every day is too much, why not take a look at the 365 Days of Shooting Prompts Challenge at Photoblog?  They have a shooting prompt for every day of the calendar year in 2017, all in a downloadable calendar.  I know this is posting on the 6th, but you can easily catch up, or just go until January 6th, 2018!
I’m firmly convinced that your photography will improve with shooting every day, whether you use a professional-grade DSLR or the camera on your smart phone.  What do you have to lose?

Incidentally, I think photography is going to be my theme this month.  Not everything will be entirely free, but I’ll probably include some links to free tutorials for paid software, so it’ll be pretty close.
Enjoy and have a great 2017!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

11/4/2016

Writing Advice

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,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 Waxing Crescent

And encouragement!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you should be four days into your book today.  But, maybe you’re cocky and are really just going to get started tonight after work.  Either way, you can still do it!  Fantastically prolific authors, especially some of the more well-known pulp writers, churned out books in very short amounts of time.  For instance, Michael Moorcock, creator of the infamous Elric series of books, is rather infamous for regularly cranking out books in as little as three days.  Yes, he had to do it by a formula, but, honestly, considering what he created, is that so bad?  And, more importantly, do you want to know how he did it?  Then hop over and read How To Write A Book In Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock over at Wet Asphalt.
Basically, he uses the same formula that Lester Dent used to great effect writing, among others, the Doc Savage series.  Basically, he breaks up the work into four parts and then breaks that down into smaller parts, each designed to ratchet up the tension at every step of the way.  Moorcock takes Dent’s formula and stretches it a bit, taking it from a story formula to a book formula.  Either way, it sure worked for them.  Between the two of them, those guys cranked out a hundreds of books, so, say what you will about the formula, but it seems to be effective.
Also, if you decide to use one of the tools I shared last week, Scrivener, you can download a Scrivener template specifically designed around the Lester Dent Master Formula.  It’s worth a look for Scrivener users!

And, if you’re already writing and just need some encouragement to keep going, or get some momentum built up, you can check out some slightly harsh, but funny advice from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

10/28/2016

Actual Writing Tools

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production,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 Crescent

Now, you’ve got your setting, characters and story, so all you have to do is write it. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but still totally doable, so don’t despair.
This week I’m going to talk exclusively about tools to do the actual writing with.  There are a lot of fancy software packages for this out there and what you choose to use is a personal choice based on who you are and how you write.  That said, let me share some of the more popular programs and tools to go with them.  First off, I would imagine a majority of people use Microsoft Word, because they have it available to them.  It’s not a bad way to go, actually, because you’re probably already familiar with it via school or work, so it won’t get in the way.  If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format.  If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead.  It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer.  And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo.  And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator.  I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text.  I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools.  I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs.  I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one.  Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level.  So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers.  Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

So, now, finally, you should have all the characters, setting, plot ideas and writing tools you need to get started with National Novel Writing Month.

This post originally appeared on The Fantasist’s Scroll.

10/7/2016

Story Ideas

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Need a NaNoWriMo story idea?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve been thinking about this for a long time and you’re ready to start writing. If so, you’re golden and this is post is all academic for you. If not, this post is all about helping get you started.
First of all, you have time before everything kicks off, so if you haven’t read it, get No Plot, No Problem, which was written by the creator of NaNoWriMo and serves as a guide for a month-long novel writing experiment. Getting through this book will help you get focused on what kind of fiction you want to write and what you feel makes that genre great.
Secondly, I completely sympathize with you if you’re having a problem nailing down a story idea. When I was in school, my favorite exercises were the creative writing exercises. Why? Because when the teacher gave me a title or a theme for the story, those constraints automatically gave me a direction, a framework on which to build my story. Now, when the story ideas are totally open-ended, I find myself floundering lost in the vast ocean of possibilities. One way to help reduce those endless possibilities is to go back to some external constraints. And, that’s where the internet’s vast collection of random generators comes in handy. Some of those are what I’m actually sharing with you this week, to help you get started.

The first place to check out is the mother-lode of all random generators, Seventh Sanctum. They have a whole section especially devoted to writing. It’s pretty awesome. They have everything from simple story ideas to whole writing exercise challenges to plot twists and a whole lot more besides. They’ve really got your bases covered and I’ll most likely mention them again in this month-long series of posts.
If you’re writing science fiction, you definitely want to check out SciFi Ideas – Ideas and inspiration for science fiction writers. They seriously have the most amazing collection of random generators with a science fiction theme to them.
And, if you want to generate both a book title and section titles to help inspire your science fiction novel and keep you writing, hop over to the Space Adventure Title Generator and you can almost outline your entire book, albiet pretty randomly. Still, having those constraints and guides to keep you moving forward might be just what you need to keep going when the writing gets tough.
Finally, if those aren’t enough, you can check out Fantastist.net’s very own Story Starter random generator, which is based, in part on an exercise from the great book The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Judy Delton. If it makes any difference to you, that generator was at one time heavily featured in several grade-school creative writing curriculms. It’s pretty simple, but effective.

I know those links were a little heavy on the science fiction, but that’s just where I am with writing right now. And, the other stuff I’m going to share this month will, I hope, make up for that geeky focus.
Stay tuned!

This post originally appeared at The Fantasist’s Scroll.

9/30/2016

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Filed under: Fun,Life Goals,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production,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 Crescent

I thought I’d try something new this year; early preparation.

To be clear, though, I’m not going to attempt NaNoWrimo this year, because I’m way too busy right now. However, in previous years, I would often post things to help people who were doing NaNoWriMo during the month of November, when the event occurs and this year, I thought I’d start early to let anyone who was writing get their prep out of the way. So, here in the earliest stages of planning, you hopefully have an idea what you may want to write and, while you’ve been thinking about it for weeks or months, maybe you haven’t captured those thoughts. In the past, I’ve used dozens of notebooks of every shape, size and description to scribble down every stray thought I may have had about whatever project I had in mind. The only problem is, I could never seem to get the ideas all gathered together and into a useful format. That’s where Evernote came in.
I started using Evernote because of the Getting Things Done method for staying organized. It’s a great system and, naturally, it gave me a way to collect all my ideas so I had easy access to them and one tool that people used in the GTD system was, Evernote. (For some more details on that, and a great introduction to the GTD system, check out David Allen’s setup document for Evernote. It’s well worth the $10!)
Once you’ve checked out Evernote, then go read their article Prepare for NaNoWriMo with Evernote. It’s got some great ideas for how to capture your story and character ideas via Evernote, which you can then reference on your writing computer or your smart phone. It’s pretty awesome!
And, if that wasn’t enough, they even have some great creative writing templates you can integrate into your personal creative writing notebook.

Trust me, it’s never to early to start planning and you will not regret using Evernote once you start!
So, let’s gear up for a month’s worth of creative writing resources in preparation for National Novel Writing Month!

This post originally appeared on the Fantasist’s Scroll.

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