NaNoWriMo Winner 2014!

Yes – I managed to complete a 50,000 plus word ‘novel’ in November and win NaNoWriMo 2014!

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

Lets get the stats out of the way first – as of yesterday, I topped 50,000 words. That’s not bad given that still left me a day to add a couple of thousand more. However, this month didn’t quite go to plan,  and it wasn’t actually until the 24th that I even hit the run rate, having trailed by a couple of days sometimes, whereas in 2011 I’d gotten up to speed almost a week earlier.

When I could sit down and write, I got words out – sometimes in an hour I could top 1,200 words. If there was a time in procrastinating, it was in the getting to the sitting down. Also, it was a much busier month than expected. That’s no bad thing.

I did most of my writing on the Thinkpad, in the Scrivener beta for Linux, and it worked really well as I expected.

wordcount2014

So how did the story development go?
Quite well actually. As I might have expected, it went in unexpected directions, mainly since I’d done virtually no pre-planning or outline, and somehow, the main protagonist turns out to be a bit of a bad person. Or not. I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  As for the ending, I think it answered enough questions, without trying to close every single thread off.

What’s it about?
In a medium sized nutshell, its about a person who reincarnates and can remember certain amounts of his memory. by nature, its meant to be a thriller, and parallels the lives he/she leads, and those he/she is in contact with, the the things they are all trying to achieve. It broadly takes place in 17th century London, the 1930s China, 1990’s London, mid 21st Century Yokohama, and then mid 22nd century Nagano. Of course, when you have a protagonist who has lived for an undefined amount of time, you can place them any time really, but for now, that’s the kind of scope I’m keeping to.

So what’s next?
As Chuck Wendig would say, this is something of a draft zero, so I need to go back and re-draft it – likely several times over the next few years. I have a list of things I want or need to change, to fix some continuity, tweak the ending a little to make it a little more suspenseful. There’s also a lot of texture to add. In 2011 I tried to put the texture in as I went, meaning that at the end I was dropping major sub-plots to get over 50,000 words. This time I wrote more roughly, but got most of the plot points in, I think when I rework it, it’ll top 80,000 words, but it should explain character motivation a lot. I expect to revisit it around the New Year break.

Anything else?
Well, I can say if there was a soundtrack this time it was ‘Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys‘ and their album (rather ironically) ‘Soft Time Traveller’. I picked it up in October after hearing some tracks on a Rathole Radio show, and the tracks ‘Walls’ and ‘Pornival’ really captured a couple of chapters.

Oh yes, this year I actually managed to come up with a title too – “Times of Incarnation“.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Week 1

So I’ve completed day 8 of NaNoWriMo 2014, and the best way to describe it thus far is ‘not bad‘. I came into this year’s event completely unprepared – I just didn’t do much beyond decide a concept for the story. This was certainly no master stroke, it was a combination of being busy with personal commitments and really struggling with enthusiasm to be honest. A bit of a departure from my first & last attempt in 2011, but my story idea this year also didn’t delve so much into any particular history or other real factual stance.

That said, here I am. After 8 days, I’ve done about 9,000 words – that’s fewer than the run rate of 13,333, but similar my last attempt, where it wasn’t until day 16 that I hit the run rate, which was lucky as I knew I had to finish 2 days early due to a business trip, whereas this month I should have until the 30th.

Enough of that, let’s talk about what I have done. The story is unfolding fairly well I think – I’ve established a morally ambiguous protagonist, and since this person reincarnates, I’ve already got female and male ‘versions’ on the go. There is also the mysterious and obligatory megacorp out to do bad things. Or are they? One thing I’m trying to do this time is make the morality of the various parties a little less clean cut.

So far almost all of the writing has been done on my Lenovo laptop in the beta version of Scrivener for Linux, on Mint 17 though I did do a few hundred words in the ‘real’ Scrivener on the MacMini also. So where have I been writing? Here’s a sample:

– The dining table – away from other distractions, and with a bit more space.
– The coffee table – sat on the floor, with a different view.
– The computer desk – I only did this once, at the Mac Mini, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.
– In the Kua Aina Burger Emporium – they have wide tables, and acceptable tea and coffee. Burgers are a bit expensive though so I haven’t actually been eating them.
– JR Tokaido Green Car train – this actually went quite well, but it’s too pricey to make a habit of.

trainwriting1

As far as a soundtrack, or playlist goes, I’ve been listening to the Rathole Radio podcast a little lately, and trying tracks from that  – mainly Creative Commons licensed works – specifically Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys with their “Soft Time Traveler” album.

As for a story title, I have a few in mind, which is amazing for me – I’m terrible with coming up with story titles. I’ll wait till next week to mention any, and see which ones are still with me. Right, back to the story.

Bike Trip to Tanzawa

I was looking for somewhere different to go on the bike for a few hours, and using a tried, trusted and very scientific method, I looked at my map to see where there were very few roads, thinking fewer roads meant a generally quieter area. It didn’t take more than a minute to see the Tanzawa area in central Kanagawa.  With all the research I needed done, I got a fresh flask of tea, the camera, hopped on the bike and off I went.

There’s a rough route here on Google Maps (I hope this works – it’s been a bit hit and miss lately):

There are actually several ways to get to where I needed to go, but I thought I’d get some faster roads in to warm up, and avoid some traffic, so I took the quick Fujisawa bypass down to the coast, did a little on the 134 before cutting north on the 61 up to Isehara. Isehara is a notable place for me since it’s where I lived for two years on my first tour in Japan, teaching English in schools on the JET programme. It seems not much has changed, a few new places, more car parks, but it still seems as nice a small town as it was.

Contrast that with Route 246 which is as comedically evil road out here in Kanagawa as it is in central Tokyo. It’s not a fun road on two wheels, but fortunately on this day, it wasn’t too bad, and most of the drivers were relatively sane.

It was route 70 I really wanted though, and the climb into the mountains aiming for the Yabitsu pass, so just before Hadano I made the right and began the ascent though increasingly relaxed housing, more fields and a great view of the mountains.

I’ll be honest, I somehow managed to take a wrong turn, for which I blame my being easily distracted by small and interesting looking roads. I realised my error when I… ran out of road.  This was to be something of a theme for the day.

No More Road

I soon got back on track, and onto the important job of loving the road and the scenery, it’s just a great little area to go and look it. It also seemed popular with cyclists.

There are a number of things to see along the way, some small shrines, which aren’t really notable, and a few viewing points, which give great vistas of the towns below.

tanzawa-tower1

There’s a small service area at the beginning of the Yabitsu Pass. OK, there are some vending machines and a toilet at the start of the Yabitsu Pass to be honest, but don’t worry about that, it’s fairly secluded, and offers just kilometre after kilometre of beautiful twisty roads, shaded tree cover, mountains, and small rivers running down these small valleys.

On the day I went there were also quite a few hikers which is great, but I noted many walked on the left, and not (per international convention I thought) facing oncoming traffic, which would be their right, so be careful on real hairpins, since not only could there be someone walking on the road, but they may well have their backs to you. I think  this was a bit of an issue for the cyclists a few times.

I love twisties, have I ever mentioned that? I don’t ride a bike for speed, I just like seeing what’s out there, meeting people at stops, and winding, winding roads, and this area is great for that.

There also seem to be a lot of camp sites around the area, so I’ve pencilled them in for next year.

As you come out from the Pass, you start to skirt Lake Miyagase, which looks stunning, and is actually a man made lake supplying water for much of east Kanagawa and Tokyo, so if you look carefully you can see dead trees just below and protruding through the water line.

The colour of the rocks, the water and the treeline just looks so different to many of Japan’s lakes, and is quite a contrast to the very green feel of the place.

tanzawa-lake2

The lake has several smaller rivers feeding it, so I chose a road that followed one which the map suggested ended closest to mount Tanzawa, and headed up. More twisties! There were some small collections of houses, presumably for farmers, and the required white kei vans, coming and going, and more and more, signs were for hikers, pointing out hiking routes and estimated walking times.  The roads started to get narrower, and there were more pieces of rocks and leaves in the middle.

Fishing River
Fishing River

Along the way I came across and angling farm, if that’s what they’re called, so I pulled over to have a look. At a turn in the river,  a makeshift gravel carpark (and BBQ spot I suspect) had been created and several pools with weirs of rock built for fishermen to fish their own spot.

tanzawa-fishing1

It looked like a lot of fun if that’s your thing, and each pond was well stocked. It looked a bit rigged if you know what I mean, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Yes, I know nothing about angling.

Further on, I made another wrong turn and hit another dead end, retraced my steps, and got back on route, and saw some beautiful waterfalls,  but it was increasingly obvious that the  road was not well travelled at this time of year – branches on the road, a rock slide, a stream flowing across it, and even a snake at one point. Some bent barriers also suggested a few drivers had been a little over enthusiastic on the corners.

I pushed on, taking care between the rocks, and trying to avoid branches in case they also turned out to be snakes, whilst at the same time trying to enjoy the view as the road was now quite high above the small river below.

Finally though, as all good things must come to an end,  this did in the shape of two large steel barriers across the road,  which didn’t entirely come as a surprise since the 50m of road up to them was basically a rock track.

tanzawa-bike1

That then I decided was the end of the run, and I headed back the way I came, stopping to take some photos of the lake, waving to a few bikers as they passed, and felt a little sad that this place was so close and yet I’d never ventured up here. I am planning to come back as part of a group next time, and perhaps we can try some other roads.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Movember 2014

It’s November, and that means it’s Movember, time to set that top lip free.  Movember aims to raise money and awareness of men’s health, especially prostate and testicular cancer by simply growing a mustache during the month. It’s a worthy cause, so feel free to donate via my link, the team I’m in, or via their website.

Movember-Man-Made-Moustaches-Pin

NaNoWriMo 2014

Participant-2014-Profile

 

It has been three years since my first (and last) attempt at National Novel Writing Month in 2011, and though I enjoyed it, and was successful, I just didn’t get to do it in either 2012 or 2013.  However,  that was then, and this is now, and I’m ready to do it again. I even have a story in mind, and potentially,  just potentially, a title. I’m terrible at coming up with story titles. Also, I use too many commas.

If you have no idea what NaNoWriMo is, check out their FAQ, and by all means give it a try – it doesn’t start till November 1st., so there still the option to create an account.

This year again, I’ll be using Scrivener (also a sponsor of the event) but this time, it’ll be mostly written on my GNU Linux based laptop in the beta version of Scrivener.

 

 

 

Bike Trip to Manazuru

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been out on my bike for a run, rather than just running errands, and in fact, the last time, I just did old faithful – the Izu Skyline. This time I decided to blend the old and the new, so I took my favourite ocean-side route 134 down towards Odawara, and then go up the Hakone Turnpike. It used to be called the Toyo Tires Turnpike, but now it’s the Mazda Turnpike. At the lower entrance they basically changed one cheap sign for another. At the top, they’ve renamed the cafe area to the Mazda Skylounge, though aside from that, it’s business as usual – and there’s nothing wrong with that – a good chance to see people who love to get out on 2,3 or 4 wheels. I await a unicyclist at the SkyLounge for that single wheel addition.

Sat outside the SkyLounge, on one of the benches with a view down onto lake Ashinoko, I was drinking some tea from my flask, and leafing through my Mapple touring map book, trying to find somewhere I could do in a couple of hours, and be back home in the early afternoon. It just wasn’t going to be Izu again I’d decided. As I leafed through I noticed a small spit of land out into Sagami Bay, that just hadn’t registered with me before, I suspect as I’m usually on the coastal road, which lacks an exit near it – the small peninsula called Manazuru.


View Larger Map

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, first I needed to get from (A) The Mazda Skylounge, to (B) Manazuru. Fortunately for me, a nice way to get there is via Yugawara and Route 75, a playful twisty something, meandering down through the mountain valleys, with plenty of tree overhangs, shade, and more corners than you can shake a moderate sized stick at. It must be five years since I last used this road, and it’s a shame because it’s a lot of fun. At Yugawara, at the base of the 75, it’s a short jaunt on that 135 coast road, but you jump off before the toll and express routes, and then in my case, headed for Manazuru station. I was wondering how these roads were going to work, as on the map there seem to me a mass of turn-offs in front of Manazuru station – and there are. However, after years of tourists, they’ve got it organised, with colour coded lanes to take you to different areas. Fundamentally, the 739 road loops the peninsula, but near the cape (as it’s called) a smaller road breaks off, but this is one way, and quite narrow, which is a good thing, as it keeps traffic flowing safely.

manazuru-rockpool2

I stopped a couple of times along the road to watch people sea fish off the rocks, see the literally fresh fish being dried, and listen to the waves. Riding on though, and onto the one way loop through winding lanes, you finally get down to Manatsuru Cape itself, and a nice large tourist area with car parks and bus parking. From the building, you can get a great view of the bay, it’s very scenic, but I hadn’t come all this way to look at the Pacific from the top of the cliffs – I’d come to touch ocean, and see the shrine. Well, not so much a shrine but, well the photo explains it. As far as I can tell, it’s called ‘名勝三ツ石’ or Meishoumitsuishi. Literal translation – ‘A place of beauty with three rocks’.

manazuru-cape2

As you descend by the steps though, there’s a nice looking cafe. I can’t recommend anything from there, as I was a little early for it to open, but it looked very inviting, perched on the sloping rocks with a grand view of the ocean. At the base of the slope are some toilets, then the pebble beach. The large rocks at the end of the spit are often cut off from the coast when the tide is high, but when it’s low, you can walk out towards them on the rock causeway. You have to be careful on the rocks, and there are thousands of beetles and such, but it’s nice to get out around the waves, and if you’re up for it, try to catch some small fish or shellfish.

manazuru-cape3

The rocks themselves, between two two of which are stretched some Shinto based paper streamers on a long rope (called shime 標, or even a rope version shimenawa), look quite striking against the surf, and it’s easy to see how people living near here in times past would want to make an acknowledgement to the gods of the sea.  All it all, it’s quite a fetching place, and somewhere you can sit for a while and just look out over the vast Ocean. You’ll likely want that rest too, before the hike back up the steps.

manazuru-cape4

The building at the top of the cliffs is nice, but it’s nothing special, if you’ve seen one tourist targeting restaurant selling local food and trinkets, you’ve pretty much seen this one, but it’s got a great view, the menus seemed OK (again, it was too early to try), the staff were nice,   it had some nice places to sit outside, and vitally, the toilets were clean.

After I’d drunk some more tea on the lawn over the cliff, I could feel the bike calling me, so off I went again, giving cyclists plenty of space on the bumpy road, but actually not so far, as another building came into view, and in front of it, the Manazuru Fire Station, which is a simple building with large glass windows, showing off the single fire engine. It looked quite nice in it’s own way.

The building just behind it looks like a large converted house, in some old, and non-Japanese style; at first glance it looked almost south east Asian colonial – yes, I’m not much of an architectural scholar. In front of the house, what was once likely a large stately lawn, has been quite tastefully converted into a miniature golf course. Walk past this, through the palm trees, and again there’s a beautiful cliff-top view of the ocean. I think this is all a part of the number of hotel resort facilities in the area, for those who want to come down for several days.

manazuru-golfhouse1

There are lots of things to see on this peninsula actually – I’d quite like to come back for a full day and walk around a lot more to see more of them, and once you’re here, on foot is a good way to do it. Of course, two wheels are the best way to actually get here.

Manazuru My Map
Manazuru My Map

I made a Google Map link, as the image above is a grab – it didn’t want to show for some reason. However you get here though, the compactness of the area makes it worth the trip.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over to a Nexus 5 and a Thinkpad E440

My mobile setup doesn’t change very often. My iPhone 4 was three years old in August, my old Core Duo MacBook (2006) died last year, and I was saving to replace it, having borrowed the netbook from the kids as needed.

The iPhone’s button and battery were both on the way out, and the iOS7 mandatory upgrade had slowed the thing to a crawl. Having had a Nexus 7 for a couple of years, I wasn’t wed to the iOS ecosystem, and SoftBank’s LTE based plans for the iPhones all carried big price increases per month over my 3G plan. I shopped around and found virtual carrier Y! Mobile (what was WillCom and E-Mobile, and ironically piggy backs off the SoftBank network) was cheap,  and had the LG Nexus 5 phone for a smaller monthly fee than my current 3G plan with a 3 GB cap . As it’s an unlocked phone, it’ll also make trips outside Japan a little simpler with SIMs, which will really help.

Six weeks on, as a physical device, I like it, it’s very light after the iPhone, and even with the fairly chunky Spigen case, it’s still light but solid feeling. I tend to get a case which will survive well. It feels speedy, but I accept that’s relative after the disaster the iPhone 4 became with iOS 7 (not helped by Apple refusing to let iPhone 4 users update to a secure iOS6 train release after the goto fail fiasco).  There are plenty of reviews though which will do a better job than I could. I do like Android, but you’ll notice I tend to get Nexus devices, and that’s because I like that they don’t ship with the ridiculous carrier and manufacturer apps, and you’re almost guaranteed to get OS updates quickly.

For the laptop, I looked at the MacBook Air – it’s a beautiful piece of engineering, but truthfully, outside of  my 80,000 yen budget (it’s almost 110,000yen with 8GB RAM, 13″ screen but a relatively slower CPU). I looked around at a lot of laptops, but kept coming back to Lenovo’s relatively unsung Thinkpad E design and pricing.

After prioritizing my wants, I got a unit with 8GB RAM, the higher definition 1600*900 screen (matte), and the dual antenna ac wireless. I debated i5 vs. i3 on the CPU, which had an ~8,000yen price differential, but since the only difference appears to be the turbo on the i5, and since this is mainly a movable writing rig, I went for the lower CPU. For a decent review of the unit, stum.de did a great review, especially on the BIOS.

Having installed a 128GB Crucial MX100 SSD, this thing flies with Mint Linux 17 Cinammon on it. The only issue I have right now is suspend is a bit unreliable, and it would appear to be the continuation of a Linux tradition; in my case it may be anything from the Intel graphics driver, to the lack of a swap space under LVM with 8GB of RAM. Hibernate is fine though.

As for real world performance, I was ripping a CD to FLAC, transcoding other FLACs to OGG format, watching a 1080p video over the N based wifi from my old Bufallo NAS with a few IRC chats, and browser tabs going, and the thing never missed a beat. I think that should cover my average usage.

Physically, it’s really nice, much more solid than I was expecting, and the keyboard is probably the best I’ve had on a laptop. I’ve been a general Linux user for a long time, so it was nice to use it on a dedicated laptop, having kicked the idea around for a while.  It also doesn’t seem to get very warm either, especially near the keyboard, where the old Macbook would get a little uncomfortable after a while. I have not yet tested out the spill resistant keyboard, and don’t actually plan to.

Using the Windows 8.1 the laptop shipped with and the horrific dance it likes you to do through first boot was enough in itself to put you off – really Microsoft, that obsession with linking to an MS account before you can play with your new machine is really annoying, and the first thing I switch off afterwards anyway.

For what it’s worth, if you do want to continue using it, it comes with less crapware than I’ve seen elsewhere, and is easily removed. The fact I even had to cover that tells you something. To cover performance, the machine is very snappy in Windows 8.1, and I had no problems with it, even though it was running through a 5400rpm HDD.

In the six weeks I’ve had it, I’ve taken it on an international trip, and it performed excellently, even if it is a little bulkier than a more expensive ultrabook. I’ve dragged it around the house, sat in the park with it, and generally lugged it about, and it’s done exactly what I wanted from it.

So there we are, that should be me done for several more years. Also, this is not an Apple vs. Linux vs. Google thing. Brand loyalty is a silly thing, you should buy on your needs and your available money. For me the Nexus and the E440 are exactly what I need for the foreseeable future, and whilst I like the alternatives, they don’t represent good value for money to me.

[Fixed for me] Mac rebooting during sleep

Posting this in case it can save someone else some time:

It all started so innocently. I’d bought a Logitech wireless mouse (an M325)  for my wife’s Mac Mini and put the tiny receiver into the keyboard USB port for proximity, because I never use those ports. It seemed to work fine and also reduced the number of cables on my rather cluttered desk.

A couple of days later, whilst I was playing Minecraft on my Windows box, I noticed that the Mac Mini was unexpectedly rebooting, so I trawled the Macs logs in the Console.app, and found an odd error message regarding a sleep issue. It wasn’t a one off either – in one evening it had rebooted and actually shutdown three times.

9/24/14 11:35:04.000 PM kernel[0]: Sleep failure code 0x00000000 0x1f006900

I read around on the net about that message, and what it could be related to, and it seemed that some people were having similar issues and suspected USB devices, especially drives, such as for Time Machine, as the culprit.

Of course, the first thing you check for should be recent changes, and there had been some Apple patches go in, but I decided to test the Time Machine USB drive theory first (almost dismissing the new mouse!). In summary:

– Removed Time Machine drive – same problem.
– Removed the Logitech mouse dongle, but crucially, put the old known good basic Microsoft mouse in that same keyboard USB port (previously it was plugged into the rear of the Mini) – same problem.
– Tested disabling sleep to confirm it was sleep related, and yes, confirmed that there was no problem with no sleep.
– Finally, decided to plug the Logitech dongle into the USB hub attached to the mac – and yes, all was fine, no sleep problem anymore.

It would seem that keyboard port does not like USB HID devices.

The bottom line: never dismiss any change, and never underestimate the weird things which can cause issues.

Kiva Update – Two Loans!

Kiva is an organisation which works with micro-finance organisations all over the world to provide loans to help people move forwards with their ideas and businesses. Essentially, several people, sometimes many, pool their money to extend a loan to a person or group they select from the Kiva website.

I made my first Kiva loan in 2011 of 25 USD to a group in Viet Nam, the second was to a sewing services lady in Colombia, the third was to a man in Kenya, looking to build his motorbike transportation business. I won’t deny my love of motorbiking played a part in that last one. However, this has been that same 25 USD going around, so I’ve added another 25 USD (as well as a small donation to Kiva itself) and made two more small loans this time around.

The first new loan is to another Kenyan motorbike transportation chap, and the second is to a Balinese crafts family. This latter one is the first time then that I’ve lent money into a country I’ve actually been to.

This brings my money-lent level in total to 125 USD, well below the Kiva average of 333USD. One must try harder. Kiva knows this and provides plenty of statistics and badges on your portfolio in the hope it might make you want to cover that last country you haven’t lent into yet.

It’s worth remembering that this is a loan, not a donation, and many recipients are looking to build businesses, or better themselves for their communities, and unlike a donation, you stand a very good chance (98%+) of getting your money back to loan it out again, or even take it out of Kiva.

Give it a try.