16 April 2014

WP Alchemy and wp_​editor fields in 3.9

If you’re read­ing this post, then you prob­a­bly have issues with your rich text edi­tor cus­tom fields in WordPress 3.9+. It turns out this is for a pretty sim­ple rea­son, described in this ticket here.

In essence, wp_​editor doesn’t work right if you have brack­ets in the ID. The ID can­not con­tain any­thing but lower case let­ters and num­bers. But the name of a WP Alchemy field usu­ally has brackets.

Turns out, you should use the ‘textarea_​name’ for your field name and set the ID on wp_​editor to some­thing dif­fer­ent. So an exam­ple might look like this:

$settings = array(
'textarea_name'=> $mb->get_the_name(),
$val = htmlspecialchars_decode($mb->get_the_value());
$id = $mb->get_the_name();
wp_editor($val, 'testeditor' , $settings );

I hope this entry helps some­one else fig­ure out the prob­lem. Now I just need to update all my exist­ing uses.

10 April 2014

Thoughts On Writing (This) Graphic Novel(s)

I can’t tell you much about the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing a graphic novel in gen­eral. I can only tell you specif­i­cally about my expe­ri­ence for this par­tic­u­lar graphic novel I’ve been writ­ing for the past six months. All told, NIGHTFELL will come in at about 120 pages as I wrap it up. I’m in the final stages, with only a dozen or so pages of panel descrip­tions to write before begin­ning a pol­ish pass.

I learned that hav­ing an out­line to work from for a long form project is super, super impor­tant. I wrote two out­lines for this project; one for the first half, and one for the sec­ond. The first was much more detailed, and the sec­ond was a bit limp, and hand-​​wavy here and there. Guess which part of the script was eas­ier to write?

First, an out­line is great because when your con­fi­dence in your­self wanes, you can lean on the out­line. “The out­line says this must hap­pen, and that writer was bet­ter than I am today right now.” If you can trust your orig­i­nal ideas, then you can lean on them when you’re not par­tic­u­larly inspired. Conversely, when inspi­ra­tion strikes and you think of a bet­ter way to han­dle some­thing, you do it the bet­ter way. Provided it doesn’t, you know, destroy every­thing you’ve writ­ten already because:

In my case, the artist is draw­ing pages as I write. This severely lim­its my abil­ity to go back and re-​​write pages of script. On most any project, I can do a com­plete edit­ing pass after fin­ish­ing some­thing to strengthen the nar­ra­tive — add allu­sions and call­backs and what-​​not. Luckily, with an out­line, I know what I need to fore­shadow bet­ter than if I was just writ­ing it on the fly. Still, I found myself putting in fore­shad­ow­ing “hooks” even when I wasn’t sure what was cast­ing my shadow at the end of the book. These hooks were super use­ful, but made wrap­ping things up harder.

Luckily, because adding the let­ter­ing to the comic comes even later, I can still tweak dia­logue. So most of the words you will actu­ally read, those I can edit a lot. And boy do I intend to revisit every sin­gle line of dia­logue when I fin­ish the main story pass on the script.

Working like this has been an adven­ture, full of weird con­straints that force me to think dif­fer­ently. I have hopes that the prod­uct will be some­thing worth read­ing. Thankfully, that result is not based just on me, but on the work of my fine, fine artists who will be draw­ing and col­or­ing the book.

We should start shar­ing more infor­ma­tion and art from NIGHTFELL this sum­mer. What I can tell you right now is that NIGHTFELL is a dusty world full of old gods and cults, bar­bar­ian raiders, strange pow­ers; a world where the dead rise to pro­tect the liv­ing dur­ing the ten years of dark­ness known as Nightfell, a time when mon­sters boil up from below the sur­face to destroy civ­i­liza­tion. The story focuses on a brother and sis­ter who find them­selves as the last believ­ers in Nightfell, the last of a line of priests pro­tect­ing their city from destruc­tion as the Long Day winds down.

I’ve loved writ­ing it, but now that I’m get­ting close to fin­ish­ing, I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to writ­ing some short sto­ries, and then, even­tu­ally, really get­ting into the Stranger Creek novel I’ve been noodling on all year.

13 March 2014

On Kansas State Income Taxes

Our tax bill has come back this year. We’re pay­ing a shock­ing amount-​​by-​​dollar-​​figure in fed­eral income taxes (but no so shock­ing as a per­cent­age of income), but I was sur­prised to learn that we’re receiv­ing a refund from the state. My tax per­son in Wyoming com­mented on this seem­ing odd to her.

So I guess I’m a direct ben­e­fi­ciary of Brownback’s plan to make busi­ness own­ers in Kansas happy. Only I’m not. I know; most small busi­ness own­ers would be pleased to learn that they’re pay­ing very lit­tle in state income taxes. Not me, for very per­sonal reasons.

The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that the leg­is­la­ture is ille­gally under fund­ing our schools. My wife, with a mas­ters in edu­ca­tion, has thus far been unable to find a full time teach­ing job since being laid off from the one that brought us back to Kansas in the first place. She now works a barely above min­i­mum wage para job that pays barely more than her stu­dent loan bills each month. Certainly not a liv­able wage, if we weren’t mar­ried, mak­ing us DINKs (soon drop­ping the NK I guess!)

I would hap­pily pay a few hun­dred dol­lars a year if it meant my wife could do what she was meant to do; teach. Our school is falling behind due to this under-​​funding. I will hap­pily do my part to see that my son gets a great edu­ca­tion, and my wife gets a job. That’s a no brainer for me.

I want Kansas to be one of the best places to live. I know that this is unlikely to hap­pen. But it def­i­nitely won’t hap­pen when we don’t carry for­ward our com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion that made good minds like myself pos­si­ble. I have my Kansas edu­ca­tion to par­tially thank for my suc­cess as an adult. I want future gen­er­a­tions to have the same advan­tage I did.

06 March 2014

When Blogging is Failing

I’m grow­ing increas­ingly dis­con­tent with my uti­liza­tion of this blog as a crutch in my efforts to write every day. Since January 1, I have only missed a sin­gle day, the day I checked myself into the urgent care for some ongo­ing health issues. My streak was 61 days at that point.

Only… I’m not really doing what I set out to do, which is write fic­tion a lit­tle every day. Early on, I added words each day to a story, or at least wrote out­lines for sto­ries in my ideas file. Lately, all I’ve used my daily words for is blogging.

Some blog posts, like yesterday’s, feel like real labor wor­thy of the effort, but if I am hon­est with myself, sev­eral of my recent blog entries read like tread­ing water. The whole point of this exer­cise has been to build a sort of mus­cle mem­ory for the act of writ­ing, to remind myself of its impor­tance in my daily life.

Moving for­ward, I’m going to limit myself to no more than three blog posts per week. The other four days need to be on new or exist­ing fic­tion projects.

That’s the nice thing about mak­ing rules for your­self; you can change them when they’re no longer suit­ing your pur­poses. The rules I set up for myself are intended to mod­ify my behav­ior in cer­tain ways, and my behav­ior, while mod­i­fied, wasn’t mod­i­fied enough. Sometimes you adjust course; it’s no big deal.

I do feel a lit­tle guilty about it, call­ing myself out for cheat­ing at my own game. Who does that?

Oh, right. Adults do that. Somewhat sadly, I find myself grow­ing up a lit­tle more each day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play Pokemon until the cold med­i­cine kicks in.

05 March 2014

More Doses of Future Fatherhood Reality

The other night, right as I was going to sleep, I had a vivid wak­ing dream of car­ry­ing my son. He was a lit­tle older than a tod­dler, and he was sleep­ing, and I was car­ry­ing him inside the house from the car. I think this must have been based on mem­o­ries of being car­ried by my Dad as a kid. It seemed remark­ably real, so real I woke up and just sat in the dark­ness as the enor­mity of it set­tled on me like a heavy quilt. The inten­sity of it makes me think I’m under­go­ing some sub­tle chem­i­cal changes of my own.

Sarah’s start­ing to show quite a bit, as today she is at twenty weeks. We’ve been receiv­ing oodles of mater­nity clothes from friends and fam­ily, which is a mas­sive boon and a relief. One thing I never real­ized was how much every­one around you starts to pitch in to get you ready for par­ent­ing. It makes me a lit­tle teary-​​eyed some­times, the ran­dom acts of kind­ness we keep being the recip­i­ents of, and I look for­ward to repay­ing the kind­ness to oth­ers down the road. I guess it’s such a shared expe­ri­ence that it really brings peo­ple together from all walks of life.

I’ve always kind of resented the weird idol­iz­ing we do of chil­dren, of the idea of rais­ing them, but they really do bring us together in ways that shared polit­i­cal or reli­gious beliefs can’t. For years, I thought I wouldn’t be expe­ri­enc­ing this, and so far I don’t regret us tak­ing the plunge into par­ent­ing. I’m sure there will be plenty of time for that dur­ing sleep­less nights.

The real­ity of the labor process kind of hit me the other day when we met with some doulas here in town. Listening to them talk about how long labor is, how much work goes into it, and so on, was a real eye opener. I made a joke about how I still thought this whole process would involve storks in some man­ner, but truth­fully, the real­ity of the pain and dis­tress my wife’s going to be in hadn’t hit me until they started talk­ing about how they work with women in labor in shifts. That means she’s going to spend more than eight hours labor­ing? Academically, I under­stood that, but when we start talk­ing about my wife, my under­stand­ing deep­ens, as does my horror.

I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m sure the vet­eran par­ents read­ing this right now are shak­ing their heads and grin­ning. They have their bat­tle scars and me, I’m just one of those lads on a boat writ­ing a let­ter back home about the beach land­ing he hears they’ll be mak­ing in the morn­ing, but he’s sure he’ll be home by Christmas, those Nazis are all washed up. Although I peg my odds of short-​​term sur­vival at slightly higher than that…

04 March 2014

You ***ed My Childhood” And Other Geek Nonsense

To the peo­ple who use the phrase “raped my childhood”:

Listen, I get that you feel that cer­tain media prop­er­ties were impor­tant to your expe­ri­ences grow­ing up. I liked Star Wars a lot when I was a kid, and I was dis­ap­pointed with the pre­quels like most folks my age. I’ll leave it to oth­ers to explain how bad an idea it is to com­pare a bad movie to “rape.” Suffice to say, I think you shouldn’t do that. But say­ing that George Lucas “raped your child­hood” is not only ridicu­lous hyper­bole and offen­sive to many, it actu­ally makes me feel sad for you.

My child­hood was more than Star Wars, or in the lat­est instance of peo­ple cry­ing harm, Back to the Future.

It was rid­ing my bicy­cle in the sum­mer rain. It was catch­ing fire flies, and fish­ing with my Dad. It was play­ing with Construx, the cheap Lego knock­off. It was stay­ing up late on Friday nights to watch old black and white mon­ster movies with my friends. Unless you were the kid in the bub­ble, I’m pretty sure your child­hood was more than watch­ing Star Wars.

Maybe your child­hood was really awful, and Star Wars was the one thing that kept you sane? I get that. But you’ll always have the orig­i­nal films, and you can pre­tend that the new ones don’t exist. Star Wars was always a care­fully crafted cor­po­rate prod­uct from the start, and I think you can do bet­ter than to define your­self by your rela­tion­ship to a cor­po­rate prod­uct cre­ated by com­pa­nies that don’t value your sup­port. Even if they meant a lot to you, which I can accept, there’s most likely some­thing about your for­ma­tive years that means even more.

I mean, I’m not the word police. You can keep say­ing it if you want. But oth­ers will think less of you if you do, and I think you’re bet­ter than that.

03 March 2014

The Comcast Effect in the SF/​F Community

I was bemoan­ing the lack of civil­ity in the lat­est rounds of genre writ­ing field ker­fuf­fles to my friend Molly ear­lier today, and she made an excel­lent point that made me rethink my per­spec­tive. That point boiled down to, “peo­ple act the way they do because they’ve been taught that is how they can affect change.”

Basically, I call this the Comcast Effect. You can call it what­ever ISP makes your life mis­er­able; for me in Colorado, it was Comcast.

Since Twitter came along, get­ting help from Comcast directly is an exer­cise in frus­tra­tion. You can call and wait for­ever, and prob­a­bly speak with some­one who reads a script to you. That’s the sucker’s way to get help with Comcast.

The best way to get help is to raise a ruckus on Twitter. Talk about how ter­ri­ble they are as a com­pany, how they made you wait on hold for an hour and then didn’t fix any­thing. And then wait approx­i­mately five min­utes before some­one mag­i­cally shows up from @ComcastCares to actu­ally address your problem.

You may not have expe­ri­enced this with Comcast, but it works with a lot of major cor­po­ra­tions today. Complain loud and long, and some­one might well show up to fix your problem.

This has had the effect that now, rather than going through reg­u­lar cus­tomer ser­vice chan­nels when I’ve had a bad expe­ri­ence, I just men­tion it online. And this works. If this both­ers them, they have no one to blame but them­selves; because it works.

I’m neu­tral to Jonathan Ross. I have a higher tol­er­ance for being offen­sive in the pur­suit of com­edy, and that’s my priv­i­lege. I felt a lit­tle uneasy after he resigned, but really, from the sound of things, the con com­mit­tee at LonCon didn’t pre­pare them­selves to receive feed­back on their deci­sion any other way. In fact, they tweeted wel­com­ing it at one point.

And really, I don’t think the tone was so bad as it seems like when you’re in the mid­dle of the fly­ing, furi­ous tweets. A two hour stream of peo­ple, all pas­sion­ately dis­cussing some­thing like Ross, might seem like an onslaught, but it’s like 1200 peo­ple all talk­ing simul­ta­ne­ously so it prob­a­bly seems louder, harsher than it is. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think the tone was as hos­tile as it could have been anyway.

But if it was, maybe there’s a rea­son for that. Because a hos­tile, angry tone affects change. Whether we want that to be the case, we’ve learned to pay more atten­tion when some­one is scream­ing mad about something.

There is no vol­ume nob on us any­more. It’s either mute or 11; on or off. It feels like a bad thing to me, but really, I can’t blame those who feel like they have to shout online to get oth­ers to listen.

Because shout­ing? It works.

The ques­tion we should be ask­ing our­selves is, is this how we want to con­duct our dis­course in the future?

27 February 2014

The Risks of Rapid Growth, As Demonstrated by a Computer Game

I’ve been play­ing off and on this lit­tle settlement/​town sim­u­la­tor, kind of like SimCity, called Banished. And it’s a real les­son in learn­ing not to push your growth too fast.

Last night, I had a nice lit­tle vil­lage of about 90 peo­ple. Then a band of nomads showed up ask­ing to join my town, which would add about six­teen peo­ple to the mix. I had healthy sup­plies. I thought I could han­dle the influx. I could put six­teen peo­ple to work imme­di­ately on my expan­sion plans. So I clicked “yes.”

Those new peo­ple needed places to live, so I fran­ti­cally slapped up a board­ing house. They ate a sur­pris­ingly large amount of food. Then yel­low fever broke out, but luck­ily I had good med­i­cine sup­plies and rel­a­tively healthy peo­ple. Next, I noticed my peo­ple started to com­plain about a lack of tools. I’d sur­vived on a sin­gle black­smith the entire game, but all of a sud­den, there was a short­age. So I started build­ing new black­smiths, but it was too late.

Without enough tools, the peo­ple couldn’t har­vest food effi­ciently. That win­ter, a dozen chil­dren starved to death.

By the time I righted the ship and pro­duced enough tools, I’d built four black­smiths, busy ham­mer­ing away, and thrown ten more peo­ple into the mines to tear iron out of the hill that over­looks my town. When I left off last night, there was a short­age of fire­wood, and peo­ple were hud­dled in their cab­ins, slowly freez­ing to death. Truth is, I’ll prob­a­bly not load that save game again. I learned my lesson.

Sure, those kids were vir­tual, but I took the death of my vir­tual vil­lagers pretty hard. All I could think was, “none of this wouldn’t have hap­pened if I hadn’t been enticed by the promise of rapid growth.”

As a web devel­oper with a pretty full plate, I’m con­stantly won­der­ing when is the right time to grow. Business flux­u­ates, and money as well. It’s not always appar­ent when’s the right time, but I cer­tainly think growth sim­ply for the sake of growth is a poor reason.

I’ll grow when oppor­tu­nity and need present them­selves, as a gen­eral rule. A spike of growth is some­thing I want to avoid. Because pretty soon I’ll have my own kid, a real one, not vir­tual, and I don’t want to see him starve for real.

That said, we’re slowly grow­ing this year. New oppor­tu­ni­ties are pre­sent­ing them­selves. And I’m excited, and more deter­mined than ever not to screw it up.

24 February 2014

Thoughts on the movie About Time (spoilers)

I’m going to talk about this movie’s end­ing, so you prob­a­bly don’t want to read any fur­ther if you’re look­ing to watch it in the future or care about spoilers.

This is a Richard Curtis film, as it turns out. You know him as the guy who is respon­si­ble for Love, Actually. So you can get a pretty basic idea of what kind of film it might be from me shar­ing that tidbit.

Only, it’s a lot bet­ter than Love, Actually. It’s less ham-​​fisted with its sweet­ness. Much of this is on the shoul­ders of a really won­der­ful cast includ­ing Rachel McAdams who is just won­der­ful in this.  as Tim is equally won­der­ful. And if you’re like me, sim­ply know­ing that Bill Nighy plays the father is rea­son enough to watch it.

The basic premise is that all the men in Tim’s fam­ily can travel back in time in their lives and do things dif­fer­ently. Basically, they can fix their lives lit­tle mis­takes, but they can’t change his­tory. Tim can make a major faux pas in a con­ver­sa­tion with a girl and then reboot. It’s played very lightly, and didn’t trig­ger my stu­pid scifi nerd cor­rec­tion impulse too much.

It’s a sweet story, played lightly, except for the one catch which is…

paus­ing for the spoiler-​​averse to leave…

if you travel back past when you con­ceived your child, change some­thing, then come back, you can end up with a totally dif­fer­ent kid. So kids become a kind of road­block in time that you don’t travel back past again.

And this builds a sub­tle, heart-​​wrenching prob­lem for Tim. His father, played so won­der­fully by Bill Nighy, who can also travel through time and has coached Tim on how it all works, has can­cer. We learn in the later part of the film that the rea­son his father retired at 50 is because he knew when he was going to die so he replayed decades of his life to spend more time with his fam­ily. The time travel under­ly­ing this is like Groundhog Day times a thousand.

Shortly after Tim’s dad dies, his wife decides its time for them to have another baby. So Tim is then forced to con­front the fact that he won’t be able to go back and see his father again. The baby is a barrier.

This crushed me, and I strug­gled hon­estly not to start sob­bing at this point in the film. Because for sev­eral years after my Dad died, I was obsessed with writ­ing a story about trav­el­ing back in time to see my Dad and try to con­vince him not to take up smok­ing (my dad died of lung can­cer in his mid-​​40s). Watching Tim come to this real­iza­tion was hard, but really, it was that last meet­ing with his Dad, and their “bend­ing the rules” to go back to when Tim was a kid and relive one lovely walk together that really got me. Anyone who has ever lost some­one must want that one last walk together too. I know I do.

By the way, Curtis made the Doctor Who episode about Van Gogh, so he clearly he spe­cial­izes in pulling my heart strings.

Another few months and I’ll have my own kid who will sadly never know his or her grand­fa­ther, bar­ring the inven­tion of time travel. I’ll be doing my damnedest to make mem­o­ries for us both that will serve for me what that walk did for Tim and his dad. And like Tim, I will try to live each day like I’ve trav­eled back in time specif­i­cally to relive it.

Be in the moment, I have to remind myself. Be now, because yes­ter­day is a pale shadow of today.

22 February 2014

Dogs are Sycophants

I’m at my parent’s place for a visit, and they have three dogs; two lit­tle ones, and one ugly behe­moth. Each time I come down here, I’m reminded why I am a cat person.

To put it bluntly, dogs are kiss asses. They’ll do any­thing they think you want in order to receive your approval. Their eager­ness to please dis­gusts me. Have some self-​​respect, dog! You have to value your­self before I can value you.

It’s not really their fault, though. Dogs have been bred for this pur­pose for eons, so it’s unfair for me to be dog-​​ist or what­ever. It’s our own fault that dogs live only to serve us. So I’m an ass for think­ing less of them because they love us uncon­di­tion­ally. I know this, and still…

I just don’t feel like I’ve earned any­thing of value when I receive a dog’s affec­tion. Cats, on the other hand, make you work for it. Their mutual respect is some­thing I can value because it takes some real bloody effort to con­vince a cat that you’re not the Devil.

My mom’s dogs know I don’t like them very much. This dri­ves them insane, so any time I sit down, they pile on me, beg­ging me for my approval. And still I with­hold it because they are not wor­thy! They are weak! CROM DEMANDS A PET WITH A SPINE.

I won­der if tox­o­plasma is respon­si­ble for me think­ing this way? That’s the kind of scheme the cats would deploy. Cats are not above using bio­log­i­cal war­fare to make us more mal­leable to their demands.

Dogs? What do they have? Slobber and tail wags. Soulful eyes. Whining.

Ugh. You can keep them. I’ll take my aloof rodent mur­der­ers any day, thank you.