Month: September 2015

Tab Sweep, September 2015

My browsers are crashing which means I have too many tabs open. This post collects the interesting tabs as I close them.

Reading and Writing


  • Vurt: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game – Jeff Noon’s Vurt is an amazing book which I should probably reread and then write about, and an RPG based on the setting sounds like an amazing idea. Not sure it would fit my group, though, and at the time the Kickstarter was running I was all out of Kickstart funds.
  • deckbox – online storage and editing of Magic deck lists and card inventories. Intended for trading, although I only use it for recording what I have.
  • Gatherer – the official database of Magic cards
  • TCGPlayer – the generally accepted baseline for Magic card prices. I use this partly to ensure that I am trading fairly with my kids.
  • EDHREC – Magic Commander/EDH deck database and query engine. Have a commander in mind? See what other cards people play with that card. Have a favourite card to include? See which commanders make best use of its capabilities.
  • What’s In Standard? – a listing of which sets are currently legal in Magic the Gathering Standard format matches, and what’s rotating out.
  • Time Vault Games – my LGS closest to the day job with a strong Magic side to the business. Fair prices on single cards, accessories, and sealed product. I try to buy things here for the events I run at the day job so as to support them. I also understand their Monday night draft is good.
  • The Real Issues With Encounter Balance – why balancing roleplaying encounters may not be the right thing to do.
  • Will Hindmarch on Medium – will write interesting things that I like to read.
  • Limited Resources – Magic podcast about drafting.


  • LastPass – password manager with a plausibly secure distributed architecture.
  • Digital Note-Taking – I’ve written about how I parted ways with Evernote [link] and this is my friend/co-worker Brian’s response to that post, describing his note-taking setup. My setup now is similar, although I’m not quite ready to describe it in a new post here.
  • Google Calendar – I recently abandoned my paper diary for keeping track of appointments because I wasn’t able to keep it up to date, and there were many times when I just wouldn’t have it with me. Now it’s on my phone or anywhere I log in to Google.
  • Friends of Gabriel Park: Maps – our local park has been mapped in some interesting ways.
  • Audio Hijack Upgrade – I’ve used Audio Hijack for many years to record streaming audio. I need to upgrade since the version I have is no longer compatible with the latest version of OS X.
  • YouTube – have you heard of this great site called YouTube where you can upload videos and watch videos uploaded by other people? It’s neat!
  • The Meadery – Magic the Gathering social network. Also includes useful tools like this proxy generator.
  • XMage – I can’t run any MTG Online on my computer, nor Duels of the Planeswalkers, because I use Macs and have no Windows machines*. XMage is a platform-independent online Magic game.
  • XMage help forum – help forum for getting XMage going, a depth so far unplumbed.
  • Bullet Journal – an active paper-based logging system.
  • Feedly – the RSS reader I use. I still miss Google Reader.
  • Fitbit – I have a Fitbit. This is where its dashboard can be accessed.
  • Bike Commute Challenge – September is the Bike Commute Challenge month, which I have participated in for the last four years.
  • Twiddler3 – a one-handed keyboard and mouse which I would like to try before spending $200 on.
  • Draft – collaborative document creation tool.
  • Habitica – habit-building app. Haven’t used it yet, but might be worth a go for beneficial habit creation through gamification.
  • Meetup – find groups with common interests in your area to get together with



[*] Wizards seem pretty obstinate about not supporting Macs, which is probably for the best for my wallet and time.

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Revisiting Mind Mapping

I was reminded recently of the power of mind maps.

My kids are just starting to get writing homework where they need to collect ideas and make structured plans before they write their paragraph or page, and I realised that I had not talked to them about mind mapping. My older boy had already been introduced the idea and so wandered off to read his book, but the younger one found it fascinating.

I took as an example a writing project that I needed to get a structured jump on – presenting about NaNoWriMo at my day job for a Friday lunch in a few weeks.

This reminded me that mind maps are, in fact, awesome. I already knew that, of course, but sometimes you need to be reminded of these things – I’m not doing much at the moment either at the day job or in my writing which really needs a ground up mind map. I’m still mapping meeting notes sometimes, especially for training where I need to retain the information, but there is something wonderful about seeing a page fill with ideas.

After I’d gone through drawing that example mind map I showed my boy the Tony Buzan book I have (with its pictures of highly decorated – nay, illuminated – mind maps) and some examples of the mind maps I have drawn for projects in the past. I think the fact that I have so many of them made an impression.

And now, it’s back to writing the presentation I drew that example mind map for.

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2015 Mabon Goals Post

Well, at least this goals post is on time…

August was utterly dreadful for my writing, and September has been little better – between Hood to Coast and other extracurricular activities at the day job, then getting back on the bike to ride in to work, I’ve made very little time for any kind of creative outlet.

I am both frustrated at this and, now, intimidated by the scale of work still remaining on the second draft of Shapes. Yet November looms, the high velocity literary event of the year barrelling towards me like a very large, very fast thing.

Overall, I just don’t know: how do I write regularly again? How do I recover the enthusiasm to continue A New Dawn with my friends? How do I revive any kind of regular blog posting schedule?

Fundamentally, I don’t know how I get everything done.

Well, let’s just do this thing. This thing I can do.

Traffic Lights

Finish Song0/30/3n/an/an/an/a
Complete Shapes1/31/11/34/32/41/4
Write every day2/22/22/21/22/21/2
Run Hood To Coast4/43/43/43/43/44/4

I find the arrangement of traffic light colours to be pleasing, but otherwise I am unimpressed by this performance. I hope that with some of the more distracting activities being done with I can get back to doing the actual writing I need to.

1. Finish Song

The 2015 plan:

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
    Last action: read the draft.
    Working on Shapes so I haven’t picked this up yet.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read. Pending completion of step (1)
  3. Give it to my wife to read Pending completion of earlier steps, and depending on her interest.
  4. Revise that second draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  5. Polish the draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Goal Assessment

There were no Mabon goals for this project.

Total: n/a

Goals for next update: I don’t expect any significant work on Song until the new year, now. The run-up to November will be filled with Shapes work and prep for NaNo itself, so I might work on Song again in December if I read the manuscrip then.

These goals, then, are here more so they are not forgotten rather than out of any expectation that they will see work.

  • review and typo edit second draft manuscript.
  • identify any significant issues with the story.
  • hand it off for first read feedback from my first reader.

Metric: none.

2. Complete Shapes

The plan for Shapes:

  1. complete detailed outline – done!
  2. play with some ideas in the outline – done!
  3. complete outline – done!
  4. second draft – ongoing.

Goals Assessment

Lughnasadh goals for this project were:

  • complete the outline consumption – no significant work. I was at not quite 75% at the end of July, and I’m at not quite 77% now. So, I’e touched the story, and actually worked through a sticky scene, but basically this is stationary. Obvious fail.
  • move into Scrivener – still in text file mode.
  • write the new scenes – wrote a new scene as part of the minimal ongoing progress, so calling this a marginal success.
  • start to fix up the remaining plot issues – no work on this, so no win.

Total: let’s call this 1/4 – the work that’s been done is in the right direction, but there just hasn’t been enough work so this so it has to be a red light.

Goals for next update: this second draft is still the primary focus of my writing practice –

  • complete the outline consumption.
  • move into Scrivener.
  • write new scenes.
  • start to fix up the remaining plot issues.

These are still good and reasonable goals, I just have to sit my arse down and work on them.

Metric: Red for zero or one goal, yellow for two or three, and green for all three.

3. Write every day

Make words or something every day.

Goals Assessment

Have I maintained my writing Log? Yes.

Have I written every day in this period? No. Not even close.

I observed last time that August was already looking pretty shaky from three weeks in, and I mentioned at the top of this post that September hasn’t been any better. The numbers support this assessment: I’ve written no words of any kind on 34/51 days in this period, which means my actual writing rate was about 33%. That’s pretty bad.

I love my writing log. I would probably still write without it, but not as consistently. And for this period that is saying something. And, obviously, I wouldn’t have any information about how much writing I had actually achieved beyond raw word counts. There are mitigating circumstances: a week away with the family, the distraction of Hood to Coast and preparing for an engineering event with the day job – but none of those should have entirely shut me down.

Still, I will mark these goals as 1/2, a yellow, just because I do have information about how poorly I have done.

Goals for next update: same metrics as before – maintain a daily writing log, and write more than five of seven days on average (72%). The extra one for this period is to figure out what to write for NaNoWriMo. Green for all three, yellow for one or two, red otherwise.

4. Run Hood To Coast

The plan for my racing this year:

  1. Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015 – completed!
  2. weight
  3. speed
  4. Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015

Goals Assessment

  • run Hood to Coast – achieved. I kept my legs injury-free, and the team performed exceptionally: we mostly hit or bettered our target times, and we didn’t miss a single exchange.
    So, definitely a success. My only regret is that I have not finished my race report.
  • get back on the bike – achieved. Starting riding again at the beginning of September, and only an engineering off-site stops me from having a 100% record so far.
  • keep running – I’m going to mark this as a success because I did run a couple of days after HTC, but then I’ve been riding my bike since August turned into September. There is nothing currently stopping me from running except the cycling.
  • ten thousand steps a day – success on average, to be sure. There are occasional days where I will manage just a few thousand steps, but for the most part I am hitting 10k in a day.

Total: 4/4 – green.

Goals for next update: staying on it.

  • lose five pounds – now I am not race training, I can get back to working on my weight. The target is a modest five pound drop for this period.
  • bike until it’s not safe any more – finish out the Bicycle Commute Challenge in September, then keep on riding until the weather is cold enough to risk ice on certain dangerous curves (I didn’t used to care about this back in Nottingham, but I don’t bounce as well as I did twenty years ago).
  • run sometimes – I don’t want to lose all my run conditioning, so I want to do some runs at lunch even when I am riding. The thing is that cross-training helps both activities; I just need to keep strong enough to do both.
  • ten thousand steps a day – still a good idea.
  • get enough sleep – everything seems more manageable when I get more than a handful of hours of sleep in a night. The metric here is to average at least seven hours of sleep a night.

Metric: yellow for 2-3, green for 4+, red otherwise.

Extra Stuff

A New Dawn has been on hiatus and will probably start up again at the beginning of October, although given the imminence of November at the point… well, I don’t know. Running the game during NaNoWriMo has historically been a terrible idea.

The Magic the Gathering league at the day job is half way through its second season, and has been enormous fun. The other non-work thing I’ve been involved with there was an engineering off-site event: we have an annual team-building exercise which I helped with the planning of this year. It went off very well, but it soaked more time.

The thing I’m most worried about right now is this blog. It started as a tool to keep me writing and it still serves that function, but I stopped posting here regularly in the early summer and I am unsure about whether I want to spend the little writing time I have on writing posts when I should actually be working on my novel. I’ve lost the ability to incorporate blog posts into my writing practice, basically.

I’m not going to shut the blog down, but the sporadic posting will probably continue into the new year. I will think more about that, but this kind of non-schedule seems like the default behaviour for now.

And with that, on to the next thing.

I hope your writing is going more consistently than mine.

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