Rough Beast, Slouching

Progress continues apace, if you can call a shambling shuffle a “pace.” I am now midway through Chapter Nineteen (of a projected twenty, plus Epilogue). For those who like numbers, here are the project statistics as of this evening.

progress statistics

To celebrate, I offer Chapter Five for your pleasure.

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The Story Wants What the Story Wants

Although I said last week that I hoped Chapter Eighteen would be “finished in the next few days,” I was optimistic. It’s going to take a few more days still, but not because of anything like writer’s block. Rather, the chapter happens to be turning out rather longer than I estimated. That’s okay with me: if the story wants more words and pages than I thought it would need, who am I to tell it that it’s wrong?

Meanwhile, here is Chapter Four.

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Here, Have Another Chapter

As promised, I have posted another chapter (Chapter Three) to my novel-in-progress. Meanwhile, I am working on Chapter Eighteen, which I hope to have finished in the next few days.

As for the online version: I have been advised that if I post the whole thing online, or even a large part of it, I will ruin my chances of selling the book to a publisher for any significant amount of money. It remains to be seen (i.e., I have not decided) whether I will take that advice and terminate this online publication after I post, say, the first five chapters. But I have a couple more weeks to go before I make that decision.

Apparently, however, my sharing the book privately won’t harm my publication chances nearly as much as sharing it publicly. So, if I do decide to treat the online publication of Fuzzy Bytes as a preview, and you really, really want to keep reading beyond whatever I end up posting, contact me privately. If you don’t know how to contact me privately, I probably don’t know you well enough to add you to my list of secret sharers, though you can always leave a comment on this blog requesting contact information.

In any case, there’s a new chapter up right here.

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Dear Sir or Madam, Would You Read My Book?

It took me years to write, won’t you take a look?

Actually, it both has and hasn’t taken years to write. The idea for the book, Fuzzy Bytes, first occurred to me in the 1980s, when I was working at UCLA, helping faculty and students use a new-fangled thing called “word processing.” One service faculty frequently requested from me was to convert their word processing documents from one format to another.

It was a crazy time: personal computers were rapidly evolving, standards were fluid, disk formats and data formats were myriad, and almost nothing was compatible with anything else. I remember looking one day at an 8-inch disk from an NBI word processor (a standalone piece of office equipment that was briefly popular at the end of the 1970s; “NBI,” by the way, stood for “Nothing But Initials”—really!) and thinking, “We have, and can still read, manuscripts that are over a thousand years old, but five years from now no one will have the slightest clue about how to read any of the documents stored on this disk.”

I imagined the plight of a literary scholar living half a dozen decades from now suddenly discovering the rough drafts of a major literary figure’s works, all stored on disks that were only compatible with devices that had passed from the scene half a century earlier. How would this scholar proceed? Could this scholar proceed?

I made a stab at writing the story of such a scholar years ago, and got 40 or so pages into it when I abandoned the tale.

However, this year I found myself with some free time that coincided with the yearly creative demolition derby known as “National Novel Writing Month” (NaNoWriMo, for short). During NaNoWriMo, aspiring writers and other self-destructive individuals attempt to compose at least 50,000 words of a novel. I dug my old Fuzzy Bytes manuscript from the file cabinet (it’s on paper; the digital draft is, not surprisingly, inaccessible 😉) and figured I would try to finish it.

Instead, I read a few pages and tossed it aside: it was terrible. But the underlying idea still intrigued me, so I decided to start from scratch and just start writing. Which I did on November 1, 2015.

By the end of the month, I had reached the 50,000 word goal with several hundred words to spare. Unfortunately, the story was far from complete. Since then, I have continued to work on the book (though not as feverishly as I had during NaNoWriMo).

As of today, January 2, 2016, the story still isn’t complete: it will take another three chapters to wrap the tale up, as far as I can tell (no, I don’t know for sure: the story has a mind of its own). But I do have enough written, and in reasonably good shape (I think), to start showing it to other people.

And so, as a New Year’s present for (or curse upon) the world, I have begun to post chapters of the book. I’m starting today with the first two chapters, and I plan to post an additional chapter every week or so. I hope that by the time I post Chapter Sixteen (the last one written to date), I will have finished the few remaining chapters.

The race is on!

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Speaking as a Passenger on Time’s Arrow

The future shifts and swirls even as you approach it,
The present fleets by before you can grasp it,
And the past is unrecoverable as it fades away.
Nonetheless, the view…the view…

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“The Intern”

On the one hand, this movie is truly a script-by-the-numbers modern fairy tale, which could easily be subtitled, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.”

On the other hand, DeNiro and Hathaway are so engaging, and they speak the lines they are given with such élan, that I quite enjoyed the movie despite all of its predictability and happily-ever-afterishness. So, yeah, 👍.

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El Capitan and Fullscreen Spaces

In the bad old days (i.e., the day before yesterday), when you made an app fullscreen on your Mac, the fullscreen app got added to a space in Mission Control at the far right. That was fine for users who never had more than one desktop space in Mission Control (that is, just about everyone). However, I usually have six or seven desktop spaces in play at any time, so if I were working on something on, say, my first desktop, and had to get to the fullscreen space, I would have to navigate through all the other spaces via the keyboard (Control + ← or Control + →), or show the Mission Control bar and mouse over to it. Like a savage.

El Capitan, however, allows you to make and position a fullscreen app beside whichever Mission Control desktop you like: just grab the app’s window and slam it against the top of the screen, then drag its thumbnail beside the desktop space you want it to neighbor.

Here’s a video that shows how it works.

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Math is hard, even to talk about

Imagine how hard math would be to discuss if the length of a number’s name was equal to the number itself. For example, this might be how you would say 1,000:

That number you get when you take one, and then add another one, and then one more to it and you keep doing that a whole bunch of times while keeping track on, say, an abacus or by getting a big pile of peas, dried preferably because wet peas can be slippery and you might end up squirting one out from your fingers accidentally so it flies across the room and then you have to stand up and look for it because you don’t want to leave a pea sitting on the floor somewhere where you might step on it and mash it into your carpet, which can be hard to clean, especially when the pea mash dries into the fibers, so, anyway, you have a big pile, or maybe a bowl because you would be much less likely to inadvertently mess it up, of dried peas that you then move to another pile, or bowl if you’re using the bowl technique, which I strongly recommend that you do, one by one repeatedly until, your arms aching and your eyes burning, you have one more than nine hundred ninety nine peas in the second bowl.

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Crichton and Me

As I’ve written elsewhere, one of the first three Voyager Expanded Books was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Because it was one of the first three ebooks ever, we wanted to show off some of the special capabilities that a book on a computer might have. So, for Jurassic Park, we thought it would be cool to pick seven dinosaurs from the book and link every mention of each of them in the book to a pop-up annotation that presented a picture of the dinosaur along with a simulation of the sound they might make.

We tried to make the sounds match how Crichton had described those sounds in his novel. I spent a few days working with a sound engineer to create them. If I recall correctly, we built the tyrannosaurus sound from a highly filtered lion’s roar mixed with the sound of an industrial vacuum cleaner, and the stegosaurus sound from a very distorted sound effect recording of a squeaky gate.

Once the sounds were done and the annotations developed and linked to the text, I made an appointment with Crichton, who had his writing office in a small house north of Wilshire around 23rd street in Santa Monica (coincidentally a 20 minute walk from my front door, though I actually drove from Voyager’s office on Pacific Coast Highway). I knocked on the door and he invited me in. As I recall, he was a tall, spare guy who radiated all the warmth of a bowl of liquid nitrogen; with no preliminary chitchat he simply asked me to show him what I had.

For the next half hour I demonstrated, on the PowerBook 150 that we used for demos, this first Expanded Book: how you turned the pages, how you searched through the text, how you could set bookmarks, and of course how you could click links to bring up annotations. He asked very few questions, made very few remarks, and just shifted his gelid gaze between me and the PowerBook screen as I talked. I have seldom given a more uncomfortable demo.

When I finally ran out of things to say, I closed the PowerBook, we both stood up, he shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye, and told me “Don’t do drugs.”

I got the hell out of there. I suppose the demo went okay, because Crichton contacted Bob Stein, approving our digital version of his novel, and the Jurassic Park Expanded Book debuted on schedule along with the other two ebooks at Macworld 1992.

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Some Apple Watch perspective

It’s been interesting to watch the coverage and analysis concerning Apple Watch. It does do this, it doesn’t do that, it’s pokey, it doesn’t work with sleeve tattoos, and, of course, it’s really expensive considering that it has no killer app!

Nonetheless, I think it is a remarkable, in fact, a stunning achievement.

Think of it: here’s a device that has multiple gigabytes of storage, both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, a fast CPU, a bunch of sophisticated sensors, a microphone, a high resolution full color video display, a sophisticated touch sensitive interface, a rechargeable battery capable of running it for a full day — and all of this in a package that’s no bigger than a typical wristwatch. A package that, in the case of my series 7000 space gray aluminum Apple Watch Sport, weighs just barely over an ounce — heck, the lightweight fluoroelastomer band weighs 25% per more than the case and the whole thing on my wrist weighs less than 2½ ounces. And it’s less than 1½ inches wide, and only 1⅔ inches tall.

This is science fiction technology.

Apple Watch Sport

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