Tag Archives: Random

All or None of the above

I took a half day on Friday for a dentist appointment. Afterward my wife and I enjoyed Red Robin burgers and the new movie Pixels, which was as bad as I expected, but entertaining. My wife is a very understanding person and I promise we’ll go see Trainwreck sometime this weekend.

Half days are a good opportunity to catch up on mandatory web training for work, and one training course I’d been meaning to get to for a while was A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. The full version I watched is 12 minutes but I found a 3 minute version on YouTube if you want a taste:

As funny as the video is, my favorite part of the training was the questions. The training software was obviously designed to randomize the position of the responses, one of the ways you can shake out bias in polling or test taking. The thing is, whoever wrote the software forgot to write a case for “All of the above”. This resulted in questions of the form:

  • A. All of the above
  • B. Answer 1
  • C. Answer 2
  • D. Answer 3

Or the even more confusing:

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. All of the above
  • C. Answer 2
  • D. Answer 3

From context it was pretty obvious that B actually meant A,C and D not just A. If we were taking this literally, A and B are the same. This got me to thinking on how you could construct even more confusing questions.

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. All of the above
  • C. B but not A
  • D. Answer 2

Or how about:

  • A. None of the below
  • B. Both A and C.
  • C. All of the above.
  • D. Answer 1

Or even:

  • A. Answer 1
  • B. Answer 2
  • C. All of the above
  • D. Answer 3

I imagine the test taker would more inclined to believe above meant only 1 and 2, not 3 in this case, and this could have plausibly happened with the software I was using.

Got any fun constructions of your own? 10 points for someone who comes up with a foursome in which every answer is impossible.

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One of Brian and my favorite pastimes when we go together to the bookstore, is to point out strange or unusual books or book titles, often speculating on the true contents of said book, or proposing alternate titles.

We came across one last weekend that really sums this up nicely:

How To Watch Birds: A Bird Watcher’s Guide


Not the book we saw, but I like the 60s artwork.

Now at first you might be thinking, of course it’s a bird watcher’s guide, what else could it be? Well, Brian and and I had a few ideas.

How To Watch Birds: A Cat’s Guide

How To Watch Birds: Or What To Do When Your TV Is Broken

How To Watch Birds by Alfred Hitchcock

How To Watch Birds: A Guide To Being A 1940s Misogynist Stalker

How To Watch Birds: A Sparrow’s Guide To The Dating Life

How To Watch Birds: Oh, look! There’s a bird.

How To Watch Birds: They’re Always Watching You

How To Watch Birds: Or A Plane, Or Superman

How To Watch Birds: As They Spin On A Rotisserie

How To Watch Birds: A Coming Of Age Story

How To Watch Birds: 25 Years Of Sesame Street

Or here’s a more existential one I found looking for the book cover on-line:


Why Indeed?

Here are some other titles we came across:

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

Psychedelic Origami

Any thoughts as to some good subtitles? Leave them in the comments, or tell us about other weird books you’ve come across.

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Where do you get your ideas? (Fiction)

Common answers to the question asked of all writers: “Where do you get your ideas?”

  • I keep writing until something happens, then I cut all the stuff in between.
  • Dreams. Be happy I only remember about 10% of them.
  • Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • An actual conversation between me and my spouse.
  • My dog.
  • Some time after beer number three.
  • Some time after coffee number twelve.
  • Between 1:00am and 4:30am, if I have the language skills to get them down on paper.
  • In the shower.
  • On my commute.
  • Right before I fall asleep, gone before I wake up.
  • Sitting on the love-seat staring at my wife talking, knowing I should be listening (not that often I swear).
  • Staring at the books in my office.
  • Sitting in long meetings.
  • Listening to Shostakovich.
  • During the sermon when I should be paying attention for my Going Deeper post.
  • On long walks.
  • On the porcelain throne.
  • A story I head on NPR.
  • An article I read in Publisher’s Weekly.
  • Wandering randomly on the interweb.
  • Sipping hot chocolate on a cold, snowy, blustery winter’s night.
  • Childhood experience.
  • College experiment (not what you’re thinking).
  • Watching my friends.
  • Honestly I have no idea.


Filed under Writing

Did you know I’m writing a book?

What your friends and family think when you say “I’m writing a book”:

  • I know, you’ve told me twenty times already.
  • Same book you’ve been writing for seven years?
  • When do you have time for that?
  • That’s nice. Can you take out the garbage?
  • Does it have vampires?
  • Does it have zombies?
  • Can I get a free copy?
  • Cool. So who’s going to edit?
  • Self-publishing or really publishing?
  • So your main character’s name is the same as yours, and he looks a lot like you, eh?
  • I asked you how you’re doing. I see my mistake now.
  • Do I get a spot in your acknowledgements?
  • You look tired.
  • Cool. What color are your aliens?
  • Any alien sex?
  • Where do you get your ideas?
  • So what causes the apocalypse in your book? Unchecked overdue books?
  • You always had a lot to say.
  • I like Twilight. Is it like Twilight?
  • Do you need a hug?
  • Who’s your inspiration?
  • Cool. If I buy your book will you buy something from my Etsy store?

What they really say:

  • That’s nice.


Filed under Writing

So, how’s the writing going?

What writers are thinking when you ask them “how’s the writing going?”:

  • Great! Do you have an hour for me to explain the plot to you in detail?
  • I’ve finished numbering all the pages. Now it’s time to select a font.
  • My main character’s a jerk. He never does what I tell him.
  • Why are you asking? You know I haven’t actually worked on the book in weeks don’t you?
  • Oh crap! I’ve forgotten where commas go! And what the hell is a semi-colon?!
  • My daily writing goal is 800 words a day. I’ve written 799 and I have no idea what to write next.
  • Great! How’s your diet coming along?
  • If I stare at a blank page long enough my eyes start to see colors. Eventually those colors will turn into words, I just know it.
  • Oh fine. I haven’t been spending my writing sessions reading comic books, I swear.
  • I like doing this better than my day job. I don’t mind if it never pays off. I really don’t.
  • My fingers hurt.
  • My back hurts.
  • My brain hurts.
  • I need a hug.
  • Where’s my coffee?
  • Great! How’s playing video games working out for you? Just kidding. I miss them so much!
  • I think I’ll write faster with a new keyboard.
  • I think writing by hand is best.
  • I’m going to buy myself a new leather notebook and fill it with stories.
  • I don’t need writing prompts.
  • I’m doing research on the internet. Google knows every Spanish word right?
  • Great! How’s living in your mother’s basement?
  • Answering my e-mail is writing, right?
  • I could use a snack.
  • My friend’s writing is so much better than my own.
  • I can write a better book than Twilight.
  • Great! How’s that rash been clearing up?
  • I write best if I wake up at the crack of dawn.
  • I write best after I’ve had a few drinks late at night.
  • Don’t panic.
  • You just want me to ask about your book don’t you? Conversational reciprocity, eh? Well, I’ll have none of it!
  • Any day now I’ll know where the hell this story is going.
  • Great! I’ve only rewritten the first line ten times!
  • I never forget witch words to use.
  • I haven’t mixed up my character’s names.
  • All of my character’s names do not begin with the letter C. Though they could.
  • Drawing fractals IS working on the book. Or it was anyway.
  • I need another notebook for the bedroom, in case I have any good ideas. And a waterproof one for the bathroom.
  • Great! I’m thinking of tweezing my eyebrows.
  • Microsoft Word doesn’t think my title is a word.
  • I like OpenOffice. It counts my quotation marks as words (really).
  • What I really need is a typewriter. Or a typewriter sound for my keyboard.
  • I’ve been thinking of trying Balzac’s writing trick. Just kidding!
  • Great! So when are you and Deb gonna start having children?
  • Seriously, where is my coffee?

What we actually say:

  • It’s coming along.


Filed under Writing

Writing with distractions

I can only write one book at a time.

I’ve tried working simultaneously but inevitably I have to put one project down to pick another one up.

This can be a bit of a problem for a guy who has at least five books stuck in his head.

I’ve tried working on two different subjects at the same time. When I started Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach I was also working on revising DM. One involved a lot of research and writing programs, and the other involved revising storylines, clarifying characters and trimming a lot of fat.

But I only have so much RAM and inevitably work on one (or both) suffers.

For me writing a novel requires a knowledge of the material that is almost sub-conscious. Not to be cliché, but you have to be living and breathing it. Apparently I can only live one life at a time.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream.

Even as I’m nearing the halfway point on Surreality I’m already thinking about its sequel. At the moment I’m thinking about good locations around Columbus. I’m not going into much detail yet, but I’ll give you a hint: I need at least three of them.

Why does our mind cast about instead of staying focused?

Part of it I think is to keep ourselves fresh. Working on a novel, especially to the obsessive level necessary to keep everything straight, is tiring work. And it’s slow. At 800 words a day I should have Surreality finished in another two months, only to give it promptly to my Dad who could probably read it in the course of a few afternoons. Sometimes it’s nice to play everything out, to live in another world for a while.

And books nag at you.

DM in particular pops into my head from time to time. I spent a year writing it, and it’s been two since I’ve really worked on it. Atlantia wants me to pick up where I left off so I can get to its sequel (and the book after that). And new ideas pop up unannounced: What about a detective story in Youngstown, OH? What about a prequel to DM?

It’s tempting to let these books goad me into working on them, but that only keeps me from doing the real work necessary to get them read by anyone aside from a few alpha and beta readers. (BTW I should probably not have any more alpha [rough draft] readers. Rough drafts are more embarrassing than you’d think).

I can’t decide if I want to be the sort of author who always has this problem, or the kind who actually gets to finish everything he started. I have a feeling it won’t really be a choice I make either way, either ideas will stop working or I will (so to speak).

Outlines might be a solution for some of you to this problem, though I’m the sort who hates intermediate steps. I try to work everything out in my head, so that when I write I can just write. But it leaves very little in the way of notes or other materials for other authors to pick up on, or even myself to remember where my head was. Books really are living things that live in the particular moment I choose to write them.

How do you deal with distractions?

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Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

This post has been scheduled for 1/15/14 at 6:35am

Sometimes I schedule blog posts.

I like it not only because it means the blog tends to be released at a consistent time, 6:35am, but because it let’s me get to ideas when they’re fresh in my head which is not always immediately after I get up.

Other times an idea will strike me but I miss the window for writing about it. Writing a post about Black Friday right now wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially since January and February tend to be the months I spend the least money after the post holiday shock.

I like to feel like I’m having a daily conversation with everyone who comes to read this blog, but I’m also keenly aware in part because of my own habits, and what I’m able to observe from stats, that a lot of you don’t read the blog the day it comes out. A post can tank on its first day, and be one of my most popular by the end of the month, so what does a day or two’s advance writing do to change the reader’s experience?

Sometimes I “write the week” so I can focus on other projects that have been falling by the wayside. The first week I was working on Surreality I wrote all of my blog posts on Sunday so I could ride out the week with my head solely on my characters. Inevitably though, those are the weeks when I tend to have the most ideas I want to share with you.

Last month when I was on jury duty I had some time to kill before I reported in. I wrote Wednesday’s post Tuesday morning describing my time spent downtown assuming I’d have duty for the rest of the week. By noon I was released and Wednesday morning I was driving back to work as my post from downtown hit the web. I could have posted late on Tuesday instead of the regular time on Wednesday, but I kind of like to maintain a consistent release schedule (except when I don’t like last week 🙂 ).

A blog’s kind of a weird cross between the immediacy of other social media like Facebook and Twitter, and longer form non-fiction like articles and books. Ultimately I want my writing to be fresh even if it wasn’t brewed twenty minutes ago. Even if it’s topical or seasonal, when those things roll around again I want my writing to have something to say.

Do any of you “write the week”, or on “focus weeks” do you let the number of posts decrease? What works for you?


Filed under Writing