NaNoWriMo changed things, but it’s okay. Really.

Chances are good you know me from National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge where participants write a 50,000-word novel from scratch.

Wait. Scratch that.

From the NaNo FAQ:

Do I have to start my novel from scratch on the first of the month? Can I use an outline?

We think NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. However, what’s most important is being excited about what you’re writing. If you want to work on a pre-existing project, you have our full support!

Wait a minute, that’s not “from scratch”.

This change is a recent one that will start to take effect for NaNo 2014. You don’t HAVE to start your novel from scratch anymore, but it’s still encouraged.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. It’s not a rule change, it’s a rule adaptation, one that adapts to the needs of the community because people were already continuing works for NaNo. Even ten years ago returning Wrimos were invoking the completely unofficial Zokutou clause to win NaNo by completing a first draft. They were a small group, but over time more people started using NaNo and its inspirational community to get started on a project or heck, finish one. This is a wonderful thing. Not only are more people writing, but they’re writing more types of things, from novels to scripts to academic theses to poetry collections. And they’re sharing their knowledge and process with the NaNo community, cheering others on, and contributing to the overall camaraderie.

NaNoWriMo believes your story matters, and you’re the only one who can tell it. Not just the one you started on November first. Your story. That includes your existing story too. Neither one is better, though one may be more challenging depending on your writerly disposition. They’re both valid ways of finishing your tale.

All this said, I plan on continuing to start my NaNo novels from scratch, so those unfinished books will have to wait for camp. As for you? Start from scratch or pick up an existing novel. As long as you’re writing, that’s what matters.

Help me go to NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously!

Hi. Remember that Night of Writing Dangerously thing I wouldn’t shut up about over the past few years?

It’s back. And it’s better than ever.

Last year I got to wear the coveted flowerpot hat for winning a word sprint. That’s right, I beat 250 other people in a word war. I met people who were previously Twitter followers and fellow @NaNoWordSprints leaders. I visited NaNoWriMo HQ and rolled up all those posters in the NOWD tote bags and had lunch with Grant, NaNo’s Executive Director. I did research for Wikiwrimo and documented even more of NaNoWriMo culture.

This year several people I’ve befriended through NaNo are also attending. Among them are Debs and Errol, and I’m convinced that putting Errol and me in the same room will result in a NaNo enthusiasm explosion. Or we’ll fight to the death for the NaNoWriMo’s Biggest Fan title.

But for that to happen, I need to reach the $275 goal first. And for that I need your help.

So what’s in it for you? Good question.

Any amount: a handcrafted email from me thanking you. Pixels! Sent through the Internet!

$5 or more: a public thank you on Twitter

$10 or more: a character named after you (or the thing of your choice)

$20 or more: one of YOUR characters makes a cameo appearance

$40 or more: a pep talk just for you written by yours truly

The top donor: choose one of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novels for me. Tell me what to write!

Not only that, but every cent donated will go to improving NaNoWriMo’s writing programs for kids and adults all over the world. Wrimos have written novels in classrooms and on active military duty, in libraries and coffee shops. We’ve written on all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica).

The National Novel Writing Month community can get even more awesome, but as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it needs YOU to help with that.

Donate to NaNoWriMo today and help half a million kids and adults realize their creative potential.

Facebook, RSS, and the pony I’m apparently asking for

Time for me to complain about Facebook. Again.

This time it’s a very specific complaint that may have a solution. If there is a solution, I haven’t found it yet. If you know a good one, let me know.

My current Facebook viewing experience involves starring a lot of people as close friends, whether or not they’re actually close friends, then getting email notifications when those people update their status or upload photos. A typical email from them would look like this:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test…
Body: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test. This is only a test. Do not be alarmed.

Hooray! This email gives me the complete status. I don’t have to visit the Facebook site except to comment. Side note: Facebook used to let me reply to updates via email, but they removed that feature recently. Shame. That would have solved almost all my problems.

However, Facebook, like many large sites, does a lot of a/b testing to see what users actually use. One of those recent tests is to the subject line of those update emails.

I’ve seen this lately:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status
Body: $FRIEND updated eir status: This is me rambling about things as a test. This is only a test…

The email cuts off the update in the body after so many character. This means I have to visit Facebook to view the full update.

Even worse, there’s also this:

From: Facebook
Subject: $FRIEND updated eir status
Body: Links to visit Facebook and view that status. No mention of what that update says.

I’ve been getting a lot of the latter lately but none of the first acceptable version. Grr.

So I had another idea: let’s try viewing all my notifications via RSS. I already do this to keep track of a couple of pages, in particular the NaNoWriMo page and that of my alma mater’s math department. These RSS feeds show the entire update so I don’t have to visit the Facebook site. Unfortunately the RSS feed for all your notifications doesn’t show any statuses, just that a friend updated. That doesn’t tell me any more than the emails do.

I’m making an honest attempt to keep in touch with friends who won’t come to the Twitter side, but all I want to do is view those updates without visiting the Facebook site or app. Is there a solution, or will I have to succumb to logging in?

100 Journals

The first 100 Dr. Nbooks

A few folks have asked for this, so here it is. One hundred journals. Note: in the very beginning a large notebook would count as multiple journals. That’s why there aren’t exactly 100 journals in that photo.

For those wondering, all these notebooks took up a little less than half my living room floor. Here’s to filling all of it with the next 100!

Decatur Book Festival 2014

Atlanta has so much going on over Labor Day weekend, and chances are if you’re interested in something, you can find a thing for it. I spent Friday hanging out with out-of-town friends at Dragon*Con, and yesterday afternoon was reservewd for the Decatur Book Festival. Since I blogged about last year’s festival, it seemed appropriate to blog this year’s as well.

Like last year, there was one thing in particular I really wanted to see. This time it was John Scalzi’s Lock In book launch. Since it wasn’t until 4:15pm and I live nearby, I piddled around at home during the morning, fixed lunch at home, and headed over after lunch. Continue reading

What I’m reading, August 2014

I have 21 books left to read if I want 100 read books this year. LET’S DO THIS.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: A lot of folks I know read this in middle school, including some of my classmates. I wasn’t one them. I never thought about this until seeing it at my library and remembered how I didn’t read this book way back when. Time to fix that. And I loved it. The characters were spot on; the story moved steadily and smoothly. There’s a reason this book is frequently challenged, but there’s also a reason this book shows up on so many middle school reading lists. It’s a great book that tells the story like it is. I just wonder about middle school me’s interpretation of the story.
Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 greasers

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: I tried to like this book. The prose is beautiful and almost worth reading for that alone. But most of the story consisted of snapshots that were difficult to piece together. While I don’t have a problem with stories told as pieces of bigger stories, this one wasn’t easy to follow. The author agrees, as she mentioned in the afterword. Still, elegant prose alone doesn’t save this tale.
Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 blue eyes

The Fishing Widow by Amy K. Marshall: First, I’ve known the author for quite awhile through Nano. But despite having her book on my phone’s Kindle app for awhile I never got around to reading it until now. The book centers around Alaskan fishermen, their lives, and the creepy adventures they get into aboard the boat. It’s a good read with fun characters, especially once shit gets real in the second half.
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 fisherman tales

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente: Valente wrote my favorite 2013 NaNo pep talk. Months later I’m picking up this book. Anyway! I read this book in two sessions and zoomed through most of the book one Saturday afternoon/evening. It’s a good book. Valente’s prose is more like poetry than prose. The words flow just right, and they drew me in like a warm hug. And maybe it’s because I’ve read several books of this nature lately, but I was having a hard time really getting into the multiple narrators thing. Still, the prosetry alone makes this a good read.
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 trips to the city

La symphonie pastorale by Andre Gide: I read this in the original French. And while I enjoyed the book, the plot is a bit… strange. As in creepy strange. A pastor adopts a girl and there are some romantic feelings and biblical justifications involved. Yeeeeah. Still, I did enjoy the book, and it was good to get back into reading in French.
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 biblical justifications

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: I love dystopian novels, so this was a must-read. Margaret Adwood does it again with her beautiful prose and storytelling. I couldn’t totally get behind the storytelling style–shifting between past and present–but maybe that’s because I’ve read several nonlinear narrations lately. That ending, though…
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 pigoons

Ash by Malinda Lo: Malinda was also a NaNo pep talker last year. This book is a lesbian Cinderella retelling, which immediately excited me. I just couldn’t get into it, though. The pacing felt off, and some of the characters felt one-dimensional (the stepmother immediately comes to mind here).
Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 fairy tale retellings

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: I tried. I even finished this book, and at a thousand pages that’s no small feat. But in the end I couldn’t get into this book. It was so slow to get started, and the nearly constant footnotes made keeping track of everything even more difficult.
Goodreads rating: 2 out of 5 magicians

Beautiful Demons by Sarra Cannon: Disclosure: I know the author. And in a strange coincidence, I know several folks who helped her edit this book. That said, this is the first in a series about a girl in a small town with a secret (and a sports team mascot as the Demons). The book flew by, and while the book feels like a very long prologue, I’m very much looking forward to the other books.
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 demons

In the End by Alexandra Rowland: Another disclosure: I’ve know the author for…what, a decade? That said, I’m pretty indifferent about this book. It was funny in parts and I like the premise, but in the end (see what I did there?) it just wasn’t my thing.
Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 wings

Honor’s Lark by Rachel L. Hamm: This book is hard to categorize, and that’s a very good thing. There are science fiction elements, but not so many that it’s a scifi novel. There are romances, but the romance is secondary to the main character’s tale in achieving closure and accepting different types of love, not just what the society prescribes. It’s witty, and even though I wanted to smack Honor sometimes, she was a beautifully flawed character.
Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 larks

Fleeting Ink by Miriam Joy: Yet another disclosure: I follow the author on Twitter. This is a poetry collection, and many of the poems are about writing and communication and friendship and well, how fleeting our emotions are. I see a lot of myself in these poems–both a teenage me and a present day me, one that is not at all poetic. This collection makes me want to try my hand at poems again.
Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stanzas

Up next: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. This is the book by @TheBloggess if that handle sounds familiar. It’s also apparently the third lady memoir on my list this year. Neat.

My Facebook Experiment: Week One Breakdown

I mentioned awhile back that I planned to try using Facebook for a week. That week is now up, and the results are in. I stuck to my rule of updating my status at least once a day as well as commenting on statuses from three different people for seven days.

Here’s the breakdown.

My own statuses received 24 likes from 14 different people. Of those people, I met 5 people in high school (including one of my high school teachers), 3 from college, and 3 from NaNo. The remaining 3 are from other areas of life. I already follow 5 of these people on Twitter, meaning they probably knew about my crossposting shenanigans. These statuses also received a total of five comments from two different people (my high school French teacher and one of my good friends from high school).

I commented on statuses from blank different people. This came up to 4 people from high school, 9 people from college, 5 people from NaNo, and 2 people I know from somewhere else entirely. I follow only two of these people on Twitter. (Well, three, but the third isn’t very active.) But I did do a better job of interacting with folks I don’t already follow. One person from college also noticed I was on Facebook and commented on that. I need to get back to her about meeting up again. (Note to self: DO THAT.)

I crossposted a few of these status updates (or variations of them) from Twitter. Let’s see what happened.


(I can embed tweets. Neat.)

This tweet got one retweet and three favorites. No replies according to my Twitter analytics, though I do remember someone replying to me about sprinkles. On Facebook, the same status received five likes and no comments.

Have another notable update:

On Twitter: three retweets and ten favorites, along with a reply and (according to Twitter’s analytics) two clicks to view to individual tweet. On Facebook: four likes, zero comments.

And another set of Twitter updates that turned into one Facebook status:

This tweet got four replies, three favorites, and zero retweets.

This tweet alone got seven replies, one favorite, and five clicks to view the full tweet or photo.

Funnily, the Facebook version of these two tweets is where I got my first comment–three comments from one person and two from me in reply. Two people also happened to like this post.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing is that my Twitter following is much bigger than that of Facebook. I have somewhere around 350 Facebook friends and over 18001 Twitter followers. There is some overlap in the two groups, but not that much.

A few things I’ve gathered from this experiment:

1. My Twitter following is very heavy on books, writing, and general nerdery. Facebook, not so much. Sure, there’s some general nerdery on Facebook, but there are many more shared things, “What X are you?” quizzes, and photos (particularly of kids). Dear gods, the kids. I’m pretty sure I added multiple people from high school whose occupations are “Babyname’s Mommy”. Gag. But that’s a separate post entirely.

2. Likes are the currency for Facebook. For Twitter, I measure how amusing I am by a combination of replies, favorites, and retweets.

3. Because I’m not normally a regular Facebook user, my updates don’t show up in many people’s feeds. Compare that to Twitter and its unfiltered feed. Your tweet appears in everyone’s feeds, but not everyone on Twitter is there constantly like I am, meaning many people check in on the last few tweets and ignore what happened a long time ago. This is partly due to Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, which determines which posts to show a user by how much they’ve interacted, This means a more popular post is more likely to show up in your feed than one from someone who updates every few months. I far prefer the unfiltered Twitter feed, even if it does feel crowded sometimes. Still, I know I’m getting all the signal and all the noise on Twitter, compared to Facebook where I get some signal, a lot of noise, and am potentially missing out on more signal for whatever reason.

4. And the big one for me: Facebook is much more difficult to skim than Twitter is. Sharing someone else’s update and uploading a photo each take up nearly an entire screen. And when that’s the bulk of the updates, I can’t skim or find the important-to-me updates effectively.

Will I continue with Facebook? I’m not sure. Less of Facebook is relevant to my interests than Twitter is, and fewer of Facebook’s interests are relevant to mine. And that’s not even getting started on Facebook’s technical practices.

But seriously, Facebook, let me hide all those kid photos and quizzes. I don’t care which of the seven dwarves I am2.

1Seriously, people, I’m not that interesting.

2Dopey, if anyone’s wondering. My high school’s French club put on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves one year, and I played Dopey. Yep.

Social shenanigans with high school friends

A few weeks ago I mentioned getting together with a couple of high school friends. I had a lot of fun and like to think they did too.

But there were still some things about this get-together that struck me. This is absolutely not an attack toward those people, just something I’ve been thinking about lately.

See, these two friends went to the same college–the same school a decent number of classmates went to. They even roomed together for awhile and interacted with a lot of folks from high school.

Where things get weirder is one of those friends is dating a high school classmates, one from a different high school social circle. What this means is that they have stories from the last nine years involving people we all know. Sure, there are folks I don’t know, but there are quite a few I do as well, and hearing all that talk about how they’ve changed is simultaneously neat and creepy.

Meanwhile all my stories involve people they don’t know because I actively took the path of making sure I knew no one from school when looking at colleges. So they involve a lot of “a few folks and I…” or “that one time I…” as opposed to some of the “we” and explaining who the other people involved were. That doesn’t leave me innocent. Quite the opposite, really; I’ve mentioned things another person in the group and I did when talking in a group.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Just something I observed (and will probably notice more of) when hanging out with these people.

My quest for a less annoying web experience

We take in so much information that it’s impossible to sort through everything and process the information that’s most important. This fact is complicated by content creators and reporters trying to get all their information out and making us process all that information.

Regular people aren’t exempt in wanting to share what we have to say–we just don’t usually do it with a corporate bent. We spout out what we’re doing, thoughts on current events, and our dreams and aspirations. We share a small piece of our complex lives with others; whether we do this to keep in touch with friends, get a reaction, or something else entirely is up to us.

There’s a small problem. Not everyone we know is on every site we’re also on. Not all my college friends are on Twitter. I’m not on Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram, and I hardly ever check Facebook. Most of these sites encourage you to share your content elsewhere, both as a way for you to share with your friends and for that site to get more users. This is all fine and good until users start autoposting all their content to other sites and you can tell–their feed is full of obviously autoposted fb.me and 4sq.com and tvt.ag and tmblr.co links with little context or thought as to whether anyone on the other site is interested. Without that context I’m very unlikely to figure out why I should click, so I don’t. There’s a lot more out there to read.

I saw a lot of this on my Twitter feed, so I took advantage of Tweetdeck and did what the client was built for. I filtered those autoposts out. They were easy to spot: more and more sites own short URLs in an attempt to ease sharing in a character-limited environment.

Over time I saw more and more things that annoyed me for other reasons. Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy annoyed me with their listicles, clickbait titles, and low quality articles like “20 Facts That Will Blow Your Mind” or “14 Things Only Other Math Nerds Will Understand”. So I filtered the words Buzzfeed and Upworthy out of my Tweetdeck client.

There are other things that I’d like to see less of as well, as well as other areas of personal content curation that I wanted to explore. So I installed the Rather browser extension. You might have already heard of it–it’s the generalized Unbaby extension. Rather lets you filter by topic and suggests some topics to get you started; some suggestions included politics (yes), babies (for Facebook, very yes), pregnancy (dear Baty yes), and current events. Once you select a topic, you can add or remove keywords and URLs for Rather to filter. Rather also appears to support some regular expressions, though I haven’t tested their full extent yet.

While Rather does filter out some things well, it’s limited by the words we use to describe our updates. One example that still stands out is one Twitter friend saying we should vote that day to be Friday. Since “vote” was a political keyword, Rather showed this as blocked content by its own keywords, even though this update had nothing to do with politics. Since Rather shows who made the update, I deduced that the person who wrote it probably wasn’t talking politics, so I unhid it.

“Vote” isn’t the only term that can have multiple meanings. “Aww” is another one, this one showing up in the kids/babies category. But “aww” can also apply to cute animals, and I’m all about cute animals showing up in my feeds. Without mentioning in the update text whether the photo is of a kid or an animal, I’m still left to my own devices, especially since many folks will just use the kid’s (or animal’s) name instead of saying the photo contains a baby.

Even taken alone, this is a very interesting problem: how can we use existing content to predict future content? That is, if we know someone has posted a lot about kids, can we use that to predict whether that “aww” is about their kid or their dog? It sounds like something for Facebook to work on since they already have so much data.

**

How far can we go with filtering things out? Most notably, search engines filter your results as an attempt to show you relevant results quickly. Websites track you so they can show you material more relevant to your interests. We tend to like and share things we agree on, and this data is used to show you more things you can like and share (and probably agree with). The result is a filter bubble, not just for your search results, but for how you consume the web–which shows in large part how you see the world around you.

That’s just for the filtering others do for you. What about your self-filtering? There are plenty of reasons for self-filtering that are outside the scope of this post–for example, filtering something traumatic to you. There are also the things we choose to filter just because we don’t like them. I’m guilty of this; I hide posts from Mashable and Buzzfeed and all those autoposts from Facebook and Foursquare and Tumblr.

But what about filtering out terms just because you don’t want to see them? Babies and pregnancy would be among them for me, if such a thing could be accomplished. And it’s not just babies; let’s be honest, sometimes I don’t want to read about politics. While most of the people I follow online (on Twitter, anyway) are similarly minded to me, we still disagree on things. Filtering out those things based on context would mean missing out on potential new points of view that could expand your worldview. This gets us caught in the same filter bubble the web is putting us in.

So should we filter our own content online, or do it more than we already do? I don’t know. While there are some great uses for filtering your own online feeds, doing so is far from perfect. I just don’t want to miss out on something new because I chose not to see something related to it.

Confession: I’m terrible at keeping in touch

Confession: I’m incredibly lazy at keeping in touch with friends.

This is for a few reasons.

One, I’m just generally bad at being the first one to reach out. Part of this is because of laziness, but there’s another small part where I don’t want to be rejected or am afraid they won’t reply or any number of other things.

Most of my friends from high school and college use Facebook as their primary social network. I do not like Facebook, much preferring Twitter. My preference stems from several reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, but my dislike of Facebook goes as far as refusing to provide regular updates of my own, even avoiding the site unless absolutely necessary.

The problem is, a lot of my friends from years past are on Facebook and only Facebook. I’d still like to keep in touch with them, but I don’t want to use Facebook to do it. This presents a problem, and now I’m trying to think of solutions.

For me, keeping in touch becomes much easier when I like the interface.

I’ve pondered a few solutions to this problem.

1) Convince them to join Twitter. Problem: This isn’t something everyone wants to do.

2) Convince them to do NaNoWriMo. Again, not something everyone wants to do (even if I do think everyone has a story to tell).

It turns out convincing my friends to change their Internet habits isn’t the best way to go about doing this. How about changing my habits?

3) Make one feed for friends (as opposed to casual acquaintances I went to school with), then read just that feed. There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that Facebook doesn’t provide RSS feeds for groups of friends. The second is that even if it did, I’ve gotten worse at checking my feeds ever since Google Reader shut down. Side note: if you know of any feed readers that are software free and beer free, let me know. I’ve been using Commafeed and haven’t gotten into it.

So RSS is apparently out of the picture. But then I realized something. I’m already reading my email all the time, and my few Facebook notifications automatically go to the trash. This is my way of filtering through emails like “So-and-so’s birthday is this week!” and “So-and-so liked your post”. Since I already get these emails, why not use them better? I added more people to my email notification list and started checking the trash folder for Facebook messages. The problem is, I never replied to them even though they were showing up in my inbox, despite Facebook letting you reply to posts via email. Oops.

But then last week I found myself brushing my teeth and wondering what a couple of high school friends were up to. Since they’re not on Twitter and don’t do NaNo, Facebook was the primary message of keeping in touch. After a little bit of anxiety over whether they’d reply or even wanted to see me, I messaged both of them. It turned out they were both in Atlanta. Yay! We set a date and time to meet up, and the rest happened last night over pizza and drinks. (And a guy hitting on me at the bar we went to. But that’s another story.)

Since that turned out well, and since I do want to keep in touch with others more, I present an experiment. I’d call it the Facebook experiment, but that’s already taken.

The Rules:

1. Each day for the next seven days (today through 31 July), comment on the posts of three different people. Likes do not count for the purpose of this experiment. Also, commenting multiple times on one status (or multiple updates for one person) does not count multiple times. The idea is that at the end of seven days, I should have reached out to 21 distinct people.

2. Update my own Facebook at least once a day for the next seven days.

Will I find myself in the lives of more people? Will more impromptu social shenanigans happen? Stay tuned.