Eating Your Own Dogfood

Programmers have an expression for using the program they are creating, it’s called “Eating Your Own Dogfood” or Dogfooding for short. I was watching Letterman last night and he interviewed Johnny Depp. Depp said that he has never seen a film that he’s been in. He won’t watch himself on screen. He makes the film and then that’s it. Moves on to the next.

That struck me as a bit crazy. How can he evaluate his performances if he never watched them? But then I started to wonder if writers ever pick up their own books and just read them. Like a reader would, not like a writer, looking for mistakes. I must confess, that after a period of time passes, I have picked up my own books and read them just for fun. I still like them. They are exactly the kinds of books that I like to read.

My father designed VHF radios and he was always using them in his car and at his house, field testing them, even after they had been released. He told me that one of the greatest sins of an engineer is to never use the products they design. Whenever I notice an obvious flaw in a product’s design, I wonder if the person who designed it actually used it.

Can fiction be viewed the same way by writers? Can you learn from your novels if they still entertain you years after you wrote them? Has anyone else ever practiced Dogfooding their novels?

Amazon Rush Results

One of my favorite Christmas movies is It’s A Wonderful Life. Clarence’s final message to George, “No man is a failure who has friends.” has resonated with me on a personal basis over the years. I’ve always surrounded myself with friends and tried very hard not to annoy or piss anyone off enough to make enemies in this life.

Since first entering this writing gig, I’ve been an active participant in the writing community in my home town and to some extent to the online community. I serve on boards, attend meetings and go to the signings of my fellow writers. I dutifully buy my friend’s books and I tout their books on this and other web sites that I participate in, like Twitter and Facebook. I do this without any expectation that anyone would do it in turn for me. I mean, that would be too much to ask, right? Apparently it was, too much to ask.

But in this holiday season, I decided to try and cash in on some of that goodwill that I had been showing others to see if I could get at least ten friends to buy my $2.99 e-book as a show of support for me. I know that my internet following is weak at best. I’m an unknown writer, doing his own publishing in a genre that prefers authors to be traditionally published. I get that and was not expecting much in sales from the “Internet”. But I figured I knew at least ten friends who would give three bucks to see if they could help me out. After all, I was not asking them to leave their home and buy a much more expensive paper book.

Two friends bought my book on Friday. Two. I know who those two friends are and I love ’em. I will continue buying my writer friends’ books in genres I don’t regularly read and supporting their efforts to become established writers while my own efforts languish in obscurity. Because that’s who I am. I do this because I know that I have at least two true friends, so I’m not actually a complete failure. But I won’t be relying on friends to bail me out of a financial failure anytime soon. LOL

It was the kindness of strangers, not friends who first bought ten copies of Starstrikers back in March. Those ten strangers helped propel that book onto the best seller lists for four months. Maybe the idealized myth of friendship in that old movie, is as out dated as an old black and white movie, in this on-demand, streaming HD movie world of today. Call me old fashioned, but I still support my friends, and I won’t be expecting that support in return.

Still Fiddling

I’ve decided to do some end of the year renovations to the web site. Until I get things looking pretty again, you will just have to put up with this simple theme. It works, it’s just kind of boring. Keep checking in every few days and you are likely to see some changes.

PS Don’t forget to purchase Tyrmia on the Kindle this coming Friday, the 17th of December!

This and That

Been kind of quiet on the blog this week. No posts and no comments. Typical really. Life has been pretty busy, but I have been working on Starforgers when I get a moment. Actually started writing the opening chapter. It’s not what I had in my outline, which is probably why its taking longer to figure out. Also, it’s the first chapter, duh! Most important to get right and all that.

I had a break through of sorts for the third book in the Starstrikers series – Starveyers.  I now have a better idea how that book will look from a plotting standpoint. I was worried it would not be as exciting as the other two books, but now I think it will be fine. Each book is set in a different time period and each has its own style that reflects the time it is set in. This is as I intended it, so I’m happy it will turn out that way. This doesn’t make much sense now, but trust me, when you read each book, you will see the differences clearly.

Kindle sales of Starstrikers are definitely slowing. Not sure if it’s related to summer or the price increase. Since sales were trending lower before the increase, I tend to think it has to do with some other influence.  I have yet to get any sales for TFO in the iBooks store from Apple. It’s possible that my unknown status in the SF Genre is hurting it with the trendy Apple crowd. I can live with that. No need to offer any more books for sale there. As it stands right now, only B&N and Kindle customers are buying my e-books.

Going to push this fall to get Tyrmia out in e-book form. Then write Starforgers draft one. In the early Spring I will dust off the Null_Pointer manuscript and clean it up for a Second Edition.  The only other project on the boards is a POD version of Starstrikers Second Edition.

Tonya R. Moore’s Big Web Site

One of the many interesting and enjoyable on-line writers that I’ve met in the last year or so is writer, Tonya R. Moore. She writes Speculative Fiction and Horror and Urban Fantasy. Just about all of her writing can be found on her awesome web site. Tonya is one of those technically skilled creative types who can bend PHP and HTML to do her  bidding and come away with some truly interesting web sites.

Her personal web site is called Big Universe and she’s just updated it with a slew of new features and a shiny new look. If you like SF and want to read a fresh new voice in the genre, definitely go check her out. Tonya is also one of the members of the web fiction site, The Hive Mind. Now go forth and read some fantastic new Science Fiction!

A Reader Reviews My Writing

This is the first in a series of posts that I have opened up to people who read and enjoy my writing. I thought it would give readers of this blog an interesting look at how others view my work.

Bill Blohm is one of my Beta Readers.  In a way, he’s kind of an Alpha Reader, in that many times I use him as a sounding board for my story ideas. Bill also writes and you can read his work on his blog. (I highly recommend that you check it out.) Take it away Bill.

Ken asked me to do a sort of “guest blog” about his writing.  It is an honor to be invited to do this and more so if it actually shows up on the blog.  ;-)  Obviously, what follows are my own viewpoints, opinions, perspectives, and all that.  Mine.  So, in the following insert the phrase “at least to me” or “the way I see it” or “IMHO” as required.  They’re here once to keep the rest of it short.

I had planned to write about how he writes and part way through this I realized you can’t do that, only he can.  What I can do, though, is discuss his writing in relation to his books by reviewing his stories.  I don’t plan to hit every story he’s written that I know of, but I will reference some of his stories.  I will be careful not to reveal any plots or endings.

One of the attractions of Ken’s writing is its apparent similarity to those I consider the old masters:  Heinlein, Doc E. E. Smith, Asimov, Anderson, NIven, Pohl, Norton, and others.  That should give you a feel for the type of science fiction I’m thinking of.

Starstrikers, in particular, reminds me somewhat of Doc E. E. Smith, in that it feels like a space opera.  Some space operas, you read them and they read like a big science fiction story.  Starstrikers, like the Skylark series, actually reads like a space opera.  You know you’re in an opera that’s set in a science fiction setting.   The Lensman and Ender series are what I mean when I say something reads more like a long science fiction story:  They are truly great stories, but they don’t have that operatic feel.  Starstrikers does and I’m hoping that Starforgers continues that feel.

Ken’s short stories, using The RenokeThe Rock CollectionTin Star as just three examples, bring back the joys I had reading science fiction as a kid.  They’re short, they let me get into them, and the characters are…hmmm…I almost said ‘human’ but the last two mentioned are more robot-centric.  Still, his characters are ones the reader gets to know, whether human or android.  As a reader you get to know the characters almost as well as in a novel even though they are short stories, and you get that suspension of belief that lets you just read them.  His android short stories are actually related to each other while each can be read alone, so the more you read the more you get to know about the characters involved.  Yet, each story adds to that character’s history while each story is easily read stand-alone and still gives you a character you get to know.

Ok, so we know he can write science fiction.  What about The Safe Cracker or Null_Pointer?  Or The New Vampires?  I’m not a crime fan, although I admit enjoying Fu Manchu and a couple others.  Neither am I a horror fan though at my wife’s insistence I’ve read a few King novels.  That’s a little ironic as I am a fantasy fan.  Null_Pointer was a book I read straight through one night, and I enjoyed it.  I don’t know if it was the locale, since I live, work, and play in that area, or the technology.  Whatever it was, it kept me going to see if I had figured it out right.  I had no desire to just jump to the end and see if I was right, either – I wanted to read it to add support to my guess or to get another bad guy lined up before the real bad guy was revealed.  Ken’s writing in NP just kept me reading.  It flowed, I sympathized with the main characters, and the book was readable.  I was never aware of how much book was left to “get through” or how much I’d already read.  Interestingly, when I got to the end of NP I could see several things that I was curious about and thought needed mopping up, but not necessarily in that particular book.  He covered what needed to be written but also left open questions about Joshua and others in a way that lets the book stand on its own yet suggests to the reader a sequel wouldn’t be a bad thing.  You’re left having read a good story while wanting to know just a little more.  When a writer presents characters like that, just as if you knew them in person, you know the writer has a grasp of the dynamics of writing, plotting, and characters.  I’ve heard rumors of a sequel, KD-9, and while I’m looking forward to it, I’m admittedly more interested in his science fiction.  But when it comes out, trust me, I’ll be reading it – I want to know more about a particular sub-plot that wasn’t really tidied up in NP.  That’s writing.

Ok, that takes care of mystery.  Now for the remaining genre….

The New Vampires is an interesting short story.  It’s only claim to horror is it has vampires in it.  Ken’s writing here is subtly different from his other writings.  I just can’t see it as a horror story, his writing here is more like a mob story, for lack of a better comparison at the moment.  You could easily replace the vampires with two different mob families and the other character with a gun-runner.  For some reason I can’t really define, when he writes science fiction you know it, when he writes mystery you know it but this story is almost generic.  He writes a very well implied background story into a pretty short story — somehow he manages to provide the reader with a huge volume of history during a very brief storyline.  It’s interesting to see how his writing here differs so much from his other novels and short stories.  You get to know one of the vampires, but everyone else is written as secondary characters.  Maybe that’s part of it, what makes this one so generic: all the rest of his writing that I’m familiar with has multiple characters that you get to know.  Yet, the writing style remains consistent.   I like this story; it has suspense in it but just not of horror to come but rather from wanting to know…I can’t say, I think, without giving away something so I’ll stop here.

I’m not saying I could take one of his new books or short stories and just by reading it be able to tell you Ken wrote it.  I can’t even do that with the masters.  However, I can say that even if I didn’t know Ken personally, I would still have read everything that I have.  He loves to write and it shows in his stories, he writes to tell the reader a story as best he can.  He has a writing style that’s comfortable to read and his writing flows easily around the reader.

I keep reading his works because I like his stories and they are readable.  Being readable is a big thing for me and it means that I can immerse myself in the story.  Grammar, writing, plotting, all the “firmware” of the story contributes but isn’t what makes it readable.  It’s the storyline, the characters, the flow of the story, the continuity of the story.  It’s all that plus something intangible that differs from person to person.  For me, Ken’s writing is readable.  It might take a few drafts, but I know the end product is going to be readable.

From my knowing and chatting with Ken, I know he is a writer who strives to improve his craft.  He has ideas about writing that I don’t necessarily agree with, but whether or not I do I can respect him and his writing.  Sure, he has typos out there but who doesn’t?  I should go check on one peeve in particular and see if it’s still out there…umm…sorry for the tangent.  Any of us that write and put our stories out there are going to have some minor typos or inconsistencies.  Even the masters have them, but maybe those are from the publishers?  Yeah, let’s blame the publishers and leave the masters on their pedestals.  My point here, though, is that he tries to catch them and to constantly improve his writing.  That contributes to making his works readable.  I don’t like it when a typo or punctuation or a plot inconsistency breaks the flow of my reading.  One or two is fine, I can live with that, but the more there are, the less likely I’ll finish reading it.  Ken’s never yet turned me off his finished work that way and so you can see his pride in his work by its readability.

Living with the Droid

I’ve had my Motorola Droid phone for about two weeks now, so I thought
I would go over some things I have observed about the OS and the phone
in general. First of all, I’m a complete noob when it comes to smart
phones. I’ve never used an iPhone or Chocolate Bar or whatever all the
other phones are called. Second of all, I work in technology and I have
a pretty good grasp of operating systems and software. Thirdly, I’m an
Open Source proponent. Not as militant as Cory Doctorow,(Love ‘ya man!)
but still, I have my prejudices.

Look and Feel

The Droid is a man’s phone. In particular, a nerdy man’s
phone. There is nothing pretty, or feminine about it. It’s black and
rectangular and kinda robotic looking. It’s not sleek and sexy like an
iPhone or a Nexus One. So if you require an esthetically pleasing phone,
for whatever reason, this one is not for you. I have started to
appreciate certain things about the Droid’s harware. It’s sturdy and
clean. Nothing about it suggests poor craftsmanship or design. It kinda
reminds me of what the military would issue. Especially when it’s
wrapped up in a ruggedized black cover. It’s the kind of phone the
Terminator would have used, or maybe even Darth Vader.

I used to wonder about the lip on the bottom edge of the phone where the
Verizon logo sits. Why was that even there? But after having used the
phone for a number of tasks, I can appreciate it as a spot to hold the
phone while using it as an e-book reader. More about that later.

I purchased the rubber cover for it as mentioned above and then quickly
abandoned it. The phone does not fit in the charger stand with the cover
on and it’s harder to fit in my pocket. No I’m not happy to see you,
that’s just my Droid.

The screen is big and bright and very impressive. My sons like to watch
movie trailers on it, but watching a movie would be just silly. The
little speaker puts my Macbook’s speakers to shame. How can so much
sound come out of something so small? I don’t use the hard keyboard
much, or the golden curser thingy. (I had to have someone explain that
one to me. I thought it was a finger print ID system or something.) I do
use the keyboard for the shell app that lets me do nerdy terminal things
and the kids use it for some of the games we tried.

The Phone Part

I seriously had the phone for four days before someone
called me on it. I had forgotten it even was a phone. Android uses your
Gmail contacts for the phone contacts and so I had to make sure all my
contacts had numbers in them, but setup was automatic and painless.
Calls sound about the same as any cell phone – like crap compared to my
VHF Ham radios.

Because the phone is an application (app) and not a core feature, like
my old simple cell phone, you have to open the app to make a call. I
find that strange behavior on a “phone”. Seems like there should be a
hard button for placing a call. Again, smart phone noob here, so maybe
everyone finds that normal but me.

The Operating System Part

As a mini-computer, the Droid is actually
quite fun to use. It didn’t take too long for me and my sons to figure
out how to open apps, use them and then open more apps and use them and
so on until at some point the OS said, “Enough is enough” and started
taking back RAM. I guess this is how Android does things but it’s really
strange for me, as I like to be able to chose what programs are running
on my system. I eventually found a process killing app and I love it.

Along the lines of what I said above, when you are using the Music app
and the display goes to black, it can be quite a challenge to find your
song again and pause it. This is very annoying for me at work. When
someone comes up to talk to me and I have to stop my music or podcast so
I can hear them. You have to push on the home button and get the last
running apps menu and chose Music player. You get the album listing and
must scroll down to find your tune and then select it and then hit
pause. That’s about a hundred steps too many for such a simple user
need. Why can’t the Music app take priority and come up automatically to
the song you are playing? Something tells me that the iPhone probably
handles this more gracefully. But I can’t say for sure, as I have never
used one.

Staying on the music function, I love that I can rip CDs on the Macbook
and transfer them over USB to the docked Droid. Very cool and easy. The
second sound related program that I have used a bit is Google’s Listen
app – an RSS feed for podcasts. This app is very hard to understand and
use. I’ve been listening to podcasts this week on it and sometimes, I
just don’t know what the hell its doing. More than one occassion it just
stops playing after about 15 minutes. I thought this was due to the
screen saver coming on and closing down the app, but that was set to
come on after 30 minutes and still the app switched off ten minutes into
the podcast. Of course was commuting and could not fiddle with it.

I absolutely love the messaging feature of Android and have adopted it
easily. Just pull down on the top menu bar and your emails or other
notifications are there. The OS moves smoothly from my home WiFi to 3G
and I love that. Battery life is adequate, considering I can charge it
in my car and at my desk at work.

I installed the Shortcovers app and purchased Rework from Kobo Books. My
first ten dollar e-book. I’ve only read it for an hour at any one time
but have had no eye strain or brain pains. The Droid is now my default
e-book reader, as oppossed to the computer screen. I even read it while
standing in line at the pharmacy, one of the time sink activities where
I always wished I could read to pass the time.

Apps and Stuff

I’ve tried a few different kinds of apps, from games that
look like they were ported from a gaming system, to news readers and
Bible apps. Some of the most useful apps for me are the weather widget,
calander widget, ESPN Browser, CBS News and BBC News apps, Seesmic,
Pandora and Fandango. Your milage may vary, as they say.

One of the most amusing apps is Google Sky. The kids and I were
absolutely fascinated with that for the first week we owned the phone.
But now, it seems the magic is fading. Still, it’s great for debunking
UFO sightings that are actually the planet Venus!

Still, when it gets right down to it I really don’t need 90% of the apps that are available.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad I waited until now to invest in the smart phone
thing. Because truth be told, as fun as the Droid is, I really don’t
need anything it has to offer, other than the phone. What it buys me is
a bit of conveinence. I have instant access to my Gmail and calander
and right now, as Baseball season takes off, I use the hell out of that.
So as long as I’m able to afford it, I will keep my Droid.

Hey, Google!

You can name your Nexus One phone after my self-aware androids, the Silicants. I won’t sue you, and I’d be very grateful for the exposure. ;-)  How about just Silicant or perhaps Silicant One.  Hell you can even name it after one of my Silicant characters, like Thirty-seven or Eighty-eight.  Just let me have a link on your phone page and you can do whatever you want with that name.

Ah well, it never hurts to offer.  Right?

Wil and Phil

Two of my favorite bloggers communicated together recently. I must have good taste in bloggers. The Bad Astronomer wrote a entry about Futurama and then Wil Wheaten commented on his bog about the same reference. Phil responded to Wil in the comments of Wil’s blog. That’s really cool.

Astronomy – uniting Geeks everywhere. :)

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