Welcome to Shenzhen

As I write this it is Sunday in Shenzhen, and I’m still battling with jet lag. Went to bed last night at around 10:00 PM local time, but woke up around 2:00 for half an hour, then back to sleep until 5:00. It’s difficult to get any writing done when my body can’t figure whether it wants to sleep or be awake. Everyone tells me to avoid naps and to force myself to go to bed at a normal time. I’m trying, but by noon I’m dragging like a plow horse.

I’m on the 6th floor of my hotel, and the windows hardly block the sounds of the street below. At first I thought that the birds in China were both extremely loud and extremely persistent, even in the dark, but I learned yesterday that what I thought were birds were actually scooter alarms. Many of the scooters have proximity alarms and they chirp at passersby just for walking near them. Presumably if you were to try absconding with said scooter, the alarm would wail even louder.

street with cars in the foreground, old and new highrises in the background
Intersection near my hotel in Shenzhen. Old and new development side by side.

I’m in the Futian part of the city, and it reminds me of being in New York City in Queens. Many of the buildings are in the six to 10 story range and storefronts occupy the ground floor adjacent to the wide sidewalks. There’s a certain city odor that’s more pronounced here than in New York. Eau de toilette? Or perhaps Eau de Urine. One of the tricks I’ve learned is to not flush the toilet while the sink is unstopped. I think they handle black and gray drain plumbing differently here.

Apartment building with laundry and air conditioners and detritus.
This is an average apartment building in the Futian district.

The other major smell is the food. It more than makes up for the city odor. I’ve eaten a few meals at local places, though I have yet to have actual local food. My coworkers that are more familiar with the area have been making the restaurant suggestions, so on Saturday we had Chinese food from a place that makes food from the northern part of the country. The place makes a salad that has bean sprouts, julienned red and green bell peppers, and some kind of ginger sauce. It has this amazing crunch with a blast of sweet and spicy and sour; I will be returning there soon. We followed that up with dinner from a Korean BBQ place and lunch today from a chain that I think is the Chinese version of Qdoba, but instead of a burrito you get a bowl of soup and noodles. Even if my food hasn’t been locally authentic, it’s been quite good, and I’m looking forward to trying more.

Women standing in Walmart, waiting on customers to assist
Walmart in China has people on most aisles that help with the products on that aisle.

We made a trip to one of the local stores yesterday. It turns out that the “local” store is actually a Walmart. It’s just down the street from the McDonalds, in fact. It was a lesson in global trade: America exports stores; China exports goods. The customer service here is very different. There are people on many of the aisles to assist customers. The Dove representative helped us pick out some body wash. A kind lady in the liquor department provided us with complimentary bottle openers. I’m not sure what the folks on the baby food aisle do, but I’m told they ensure that people aren’t buying formula in bulk.

Today some coworkers and I made a trip to a tailor to get sized for a suit. That involved a quick cab ride to Luohu, a shopping area with a massive train station beside it. The tailor is in a five story mall, and as I walked there I met my first tout. These are folks that stand in front of businesses and try to get you to come inside to buy goods. Or they stand in the middle of a giant concrete concourse and try to sell you watches from a paper flyer. There are touts in New York, but they’re nowhere near as aggressive as they are here. One guy followed us a quarter mile trying to sell watches. Once we were in the mall, another lady followed us up a couple floors. In between these two folks were another half dozen that were less persistent. I assume they must be making money doing this or they wouldn’t expend so much effort, but I don’t understand how.

The language barrier is immense. Not only can I not speak the language at all (shame on me), but I can’t read it, either. The street signs have recognizable letters, but most everything other than a few brand names is in Mandarin. I now have more sympathy for my pre-schooler back home that’s working hard on reading. An amazing amount of communication can be accomplished by pointing, however, and I’ve become an expert pointer. My conversations all consist of ni hao(hello), some pointing, handing over some cash, and xie xie (thank you) to finish. The other folks here have also mastered “bing shui” for ice water, though we mangle it horribly and half the time the folks at the restaurants need hand gestures to understand what we want. It really puts into perspective how terrible we are.

Overall, it’s been exciting and exhausting, and I’m only the second full day. The coming days are going to be busy with work, and next weekend we’re planning a trip to Hong Kong. I plan to stay busy enough to keep the homesickness at bay, at least for a while.

2014 Reading

January was a lousy month for writing. I wrote a short story for the William Ledbetter contest, and that’s it. I started two novels, and while I do want to finish them both, they won’t get finished with the plot or characters I had mind. C’est la vie.

On the other hand, January was a great month for reading.

Non-fiction
War – Sebastian Junger
My Story Can Beat Up Your Story – Jeffrey Schechter
Wired for Story – Lisa Cron

Novels
Big Red’s Daughter – John McPartland
Scrapyard Ship – Mark Wayne McGinnis
On Basilisk Station – David Weber
Terms of Enlistment – Marko Kloos
Armor – John Steakley
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
Redshirts – John Scalzi
Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein
Sand – Hugh Howey (incomplete)

Short Fiction
Clockwork Soldier – Ken Liu
The Wrong Foot – Stephanie Burgis
Pastry Run – Nancy Fulda
Cannibal – Chuck Palahniuk
The Jackal’s Wedding – Vajra Chandrasekera
That Undiscovered Country – Nancy Fulda
The Lamplighter Legacy – Patrick O’Sullivan
Taking the High Road – RPL Johnson
Letting Go – David Walton
She Who Lies in Secret – Steven R Stewart
Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls – Richard Parks

Not many of those were published last month, let alone last year, but this is about when I read (or re-read) them, not when they were published. I do intend to finish Sand, but I found myself distracted by non-fiction. The “I should be writing” guilt doesn’t way on me as heavily when I can justify my procrastination on “research.”

Dunning-Kruger

Messrs. Dunning & Kruger sent another letter this week, but they signed it “Neil Clarke.” I shall continue with my correspondence in the hopes that the responses grow longer.

Books on Writing

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s a reflection of priorities and forgetfulness. I’m busily writing away under a non-SF/F pen name, and I’ve also found that my short thoughts are more easily encapsulated on twitter, where I can be found as @dbrentbaldwin.

Today’s post, however, concerns books on writing. I’ve read a couple dozen books on the subject in the last few years, and some have been much better than others. Here are five of my favorites.

On Writing by Steven King – Half autobiography, half book on craft, it offers much sound advice for the beginner, but more importantly it offers a considerable amount of inspiration. It’s hard to read a chapter and not find myself wanting to sit down and dive headlong into a new story.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block – These chapters are taken from Block’s long-running series of articles he wrote for Writer’s Digest, but they cover a gamut of topics, and they also a good amount of practical for the beginner and the working writer both.

Story by Robert McKee – The best of the screenwriting books I’ve read. It gets into more detail on what makes a scene work and what makes a story work than anything else.

On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels – It covers romance for sure, but it also has good chapters on character development, conflict development, inner and outer conflicts and just practical things any storyteller needs to know.

Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card – If only for the MICE quotient, but he also covers very good ground here with regard to points of view, narrative distance and ways to really get deep down inside a character.

Kindle MatchBook

Amazon has today announced that select print books, when purchased new, will include a copy of the e-book for somewhere between free and 2.99. The program is called . There’s not a hard number of books, or–as far as I can tell–a full list of what’s in the program currently, but in principle, I love this.

As a reader, this is amazing. This program includes books purchased all the way back to 1995. I suspect it won’t include all of my purchases, but I already see Neal Stephenson’s Anathem on the list. That’s one I’d like to re-read, but since I’ve taken to reading on my Kindle in the last few years and I only have it in hardback, I haven’t gotten to it. (In other words, I really love e-readers and they have changed the way I consume books.)

As a writer, I’m still good with this. I just saw an email come through from Amazon informing me that I can go to my KDP dashboard and set the promo price for my titles. That’s something I’ll be doing “real soon now.” Now granted, everything I’ve published to date has been self-published, but there are still STRANGERS reading things I’ve written (howdy, stranger), and if those STRANGERS have not yet embraced the wonder that is electronic books, I’m thrilled that when they inevitably do, the transition will be easier, at least from my end.

This is exciting and I’ve long wanted to convert my print catalog to an electronic catalog, and this is a better way to do it than converting by way of the dark corners of the internet. It’s a win for readers. It’s a win for writers. And it’s probably even a win for publishers.

Game Dev Tycoon Cheatsheet

Game Dev Tycoon: making it big time
Game Dev Tycoon: making it big time

Note (March 11, 2014): Sometime after release and after the above post was written, the game was patched and the advice offered here lost some of its effectiveness. It will still keep you from going bankrupt, and maybe it will help point you in the right direction.

Like most everyone else that reads technology websites, I saw the articles this week about how the two brothers that developed Game Dev Tycoon put up a torrent of their own game. In the torrented version of the game, the number of sales lost to piracy starts to increase until the in-game studio can’t turn a profit. As a marketing move, it was pure genius: every tech website and blog on the internet covered it. And it worked on this humble writer/gamer. So I spent the $8 and downloaded the game.

It’s wonderful.

WELL worth the $8. It’s not an easy game at first, but through some trial and error, and then reading the raw data values on the wiki, I’ve built myself a little cheatsheet to ensure that I’m making games with the maximum potential. If you want to make a Mature Virtual Pet Adventure for the Gameboy–err, Gameling–go right ahead. Just don’t expect it to make much money. If you want to play the game without the constant fear of bankruptcy, or if you’ve stalled out around the PlayStation (Playsystem) era, here are some tips!

The various development options
The various development options

One of the first things a player learns in-game is that some combinations of Genres and Topics are considered “Great combos” and they will sell well. There’s more to it than that combo, though. There’s also the target audience and the device itself.

I’ll use the Gameling as my example, because it’s where I have been able to make most of my early profits to propel my company from the garage into an office park. The Gameling favors young players. There’s a penalty assigned for the other categories. In fact, all the early consoles do this. Target your early games at the youth market, and you’ll do well. This starts to shift in the XBox 360 era, though PCs always favor Mature. Most of the combos I post below will target the highest modifier Genre for the given system. In the Gameling case it’s 1.01 for RPG and 1 for both Action and Casual. Before I dug into the numbers, I saw success with youth oriented RPGs. This explains why.

  • Gameling: youth: RPG 1.01, Action 1, Casual 1
  • TES/SuperTES: Youth: Action 1
  • Playsystem: youth: RPG 1.07, Action 1.05
  • PS2: youth: RPG 1.07, Casual 1.02, Action 1
  • mBox: youth: Action 1.07, Adventure 1.015
  • PC: Mature, any genre
  • mBox360: Everyone: Casual 1.04, Action 1.015, RPG 1
  • GS: Youth: Sim, strat, Cas 1.04, RPG 1.02
  • PPS: Youth: 1.06 RPG, 1.03 Action
  • PS3: Action 1, RPG 1

The downside to targeting the youth market is that they’re picky. There are a number of topics that non-starters and take a penalty. For any youth oriented game, avoid the following: Military, Dungeon, History, Horror, Business, Romance, Cyberpunk, Hospital, Vocabulary, Law, Game Dev, Startups, Hacking, Government, Prison, Surgery, Post Apoc, Alt Hist, Vampire, Werewolf, Aliens, Wild West, Dance

Games target to Everyone and Mature audiences only have one bad topic: Virtual Pet. Anything else is fair game as long as it the combination works with the chosen genre.

Here’s the quick and easy list of consoles and combos. I haven’t included every console since I’ve mostly focused on the ones with high market share. The wiki has a good list, but this is filtered by age level and console.

  • G64: Any: Any combo below
  • Gameling: Youth: RPG: Medieval, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Martial Arts, Spy, Detective, School, Fashion
  • Gameling: Youth: Action: Sports, Medieval, Space, Fantasy, SciFi, Airplane, Martial Arts, Ninja, Spy, UFO, Time Travel, Hunting, Music, Rhythm, Superheroes
  • Gameling: Youth: Casual: Sports, Racing, Airplane, Martial Arts, comedy, Movies, Fashion, Music, Rhythm
  • TES/SuperTES: Youth: Action: See Gameling
  • Playsystem: Youth: RPG: See Gameling
  • Playsystem: Youth: Action: See TES
  • Playsystem 2: Youth: RPG: See Gameling
  • mBox: Youth Action: See Gameling
  • GS: Youth Sim: Sport, Space, Racing, Sci-Fi, Airplane, Martial Arts, Transport, Movies, Evolution, Life, Virtual Pet, Hunting, City, School, Fashion, Music, Rhythm
  • GS: youth: Strategy: Medieval, Space, fantasy, scifi, airplane, transport, UFO, evolution, city, school
  • GS: youth: casual: See Gameling
  • PPS: Youth: RPG: See Gameling
  • mBox360: Casual: Sports, Racing, Airplane, Martial Arts, comedy, Movies, Vocabulary, Fashion, Music, Rhythm, Dance
  • PS3: Action: Everyone: Sports, Military, Medieval, Space, Fantasy, SciFi, Airplane, Dungeon, Martial Arts, Horror, Ninja, Spy, Cyberpunk, UFO, Time Travel, Hunting, Prison, Music, Rhythm, Superheroes, Post Apoc, Alt Hist, Vampire, Werewolf, Aliens
  • PS3: RPG: Everyone: Medieval, Fantasy, SciFi, Dungeon, Mystery, Martial Arts, Spy, Detective, Cyberpunk, School, Fashion, Post Apoc, Alt Hist, Vampire, Werewolf, Aliens, Wild West

Dual Combos
You gain the ability to research dual genres at some point in the basic office. I’ve done best when I held off on this until I had 6 developers and Large games. I’m not as clear on what makes a winning game here, but I’ve tried to focus on combos that are both design oriented or technology oriented.

DUAL Combos:

  • PS3 Dual: RPG/Adv: Detective, Fantasy, Medieval, Mystery, SciFi, School, Spy (Design Focus)
  • mBox360 Dual: Casual/RPG: Fashion, Martial Arts (Design Focus)
  • grPhone Dual: Sim/Strat: Youth: Airplane, City, Evolution, Scifi, school, space, transport
  • grPad Dual: Sim/Strat: Youth: Airplane, City, Evolution, Scifi, school, space, transport
  • mBox Next: RPG/Casual: Everyone: Fashion, Martial Arts
  • PS4: RPG/Adv: Detective, Fantasy, Medieval, Mystery, SciFi, School, Spy

What are design and technology? Each genre rewards the player for focusing on either design oriented elements or tech oriented elements. I’ve outlined each genre and a general guide to slider levels for each of the development phases. When doing dual genres, I try to combine two genres with the same focuses.

The slider positions can adjust, but I’ve listed the minimum requirements. This refers to the chart at the bottom of the screen, not the actual sliders themselves. Once you start adding features to the game, you’ll have to adjust the ratios a little to ensure you get 100% functionality for each section. Don’t add features that require you to go outside the bounds listed.

The focus indicates that you want approximately 2/3 of your total points to be in that section. So if you’re making an RPG and you have 100 Design points, you should have around 50 Tech points. If you make an RPG that’s 100 Tech and 75 Design, prepare for bad reviews. As long as you follow the slider percentages, the overall focus should take care of itself unless all your features are in the wrong category.

Action Sliders (Tech Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (40% or more), Gameplay (40% or more), Story/Quests (no more than 40%)
Phase 2: Dialogues (no more than 40%), Level Design (40% or more), AI (40% or more)
Phase 3: World Design (20% or less), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (40% or more)

Adventure Sliders (Design Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (no more than 40%), Gameplay (any), Story/Quests (40% or more)
Phase 2: Dialogues (40% or more), Level Design (any), AI (no more than 40%)
Phase 3: World Design (40% or more), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (any)

RPG Sliders (Design Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (20% or less), Gameplay (40% or more), Story/Quests (40% or more)
Phase 2: Dialogues (40% or more), Level Design (40% or more), AI (20% or less)
Phase 3: World Design (40% or more), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (any)

Simulation Sliders (Tech Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (40% or more), Gameplay (40% or more), Story/Quests (any)
Phase 2: Dialogues (20% or less), Level Design (40% or more), AI (40% or more)
Phase 3: World Design (any), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (40% or more)

Strategy Sliders (Tech Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (40% or more), Gameplay (40% or more), Story/Quests (any)
Phase 2: Dialogues (20% or less), Level Design (40% or more), AI (40% or more)
Phase 3: World Design (any), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (40% or more)

Casual Sliders (Design Focus)
Phase 1: Engine (no more than 40%), Gameplay (40% or more), Story/Quests (no more than 40%)
Phase 2: Dialogues (no more than 40%), Level Design (40% or more), AI (no more than 40%)
Phase 3: World Design (20% or less), Graphic (40% or more), Sound (40% or more)

Tip: once you start building medium games, you can judge the exact percentages based on the workload percentages for the developers you assign to each category.

There are also specific features in the game. Things like graphics and sound and savegames. From what I’ve read and seen, they don’t specifically affect your rating. What they do is give you additional tech or design points. It’s these points have the largest effect on your games reviews. Put most of your features on the “40% or more” sections above. Generally speaking, you want the tech/design points to increase from game to game, or least every half dozen or so games. This can be done by researching more features or training your staff.

Staff become very important as you start tackling larger games. I found that I like to focus on Design oriented games, so I highly recommend having 3 very capable Design folks, 2 very capable Tech folks and 2 people that are good hybrids (one of which is probably your starting character). It’s also important to train your people. Once you start making decent money on games, and you should if you’re using the combos listed here, I’d do a round of training at least every other game. The goal is to get people that can specialize in things like Story/Quest, Dialogues, Graphics, World Design and Level Design (in more or less that order). For AAA games you want at least 3 but not necessarily more than 5 specialists on the game. Those specialists will make RPG/Casual games highly effective, and those have been my most consistent money makers.

The wiki has a solid training article, but the short version is this:
Design people should use Game Design for Pirates, G3 Pixel Cup and Game Design Course.
Tech people should use Code Incomplete, G3 Code Jam and Programming Course

Game Dev Gems and G3 Game Jam will train people about equally.

Ron Raglow is broken. :(
Ron Raglow can’t train any more. 🙁

I’ve noticed a bug where the developer in the right-most chair stops upgrading at some point. I’m not 100% if it’s a bug or if that particular employee just stopped upgrading, but he also failed to grant benefits from research. Keep an eye on it if you give someone training but don’t see any improvement to their stats.

A few additional notes: Sequels sell well, but you want to wait at least a year to avoid a penalty (so make another game or two) and you get a bonus if you use a different engine. Don’t release the same genre/topic combo in a row. There’s a penalty. Trend bonuses are straightforward except for the “strange combo” trend. In that case, you actually want to release a game that has a badly fitting genre/topic. I’ve just spent this time doing research or training. We need standards here, people!

My absolute best (non-MMO) seller has been a Casual Martial Arts RPG. It moved nearly 9 million units and turned a profit of around 117 million dollars. It was only a large game, not AAA. I did make a Fantasy RPG Adventure MMO (AAA size) and it made me 430 million before I took it off the market.

I hope this information can make the game more fun for someone else. Good luck and enjoy. (And go buy it, you cheap bastards. It’s only $8.)

Microsoft Word and Quotation Marks

I’m dealing with a seventy thousand word manuscript right now and I was having some trouble with quotation marks. For some reason I decided to change all my smart quotes to normal straight quotes. The document stayed that way for a while, and then I was editing it and realized that I hated the straight quotes. So I did a find and replace, looking for ” and replacing with “. (Those should both be straight quotes.) It looked good at first, but then I noticed that the quotes at the end of my sentences were all going the wrong direction.

Then I spent a couple hours trying every way imaginable to fix them without having to fix every sentence by hand.

I failed.

In the end, I copied my text into a fresh document, did a find and replace of ” and ” and it magically worked. My hypothesis is that a combination of the auto-correct settings, my large (ish) manuscript and track changes caused the issue where find and replace wouldn’t fix them like it always has in the past. The downside is that it completely blew up my track changes history, but I have various copies saved with older versions, so it’s not a big deal.

In related news, I’m working on The Ghoul Hunter’s Apprentice this weekend. Just when I thought it was done, I received some AMAZING feedback from a member of my writing group, and it’s inspired me to take a big machete to a number of the opening chapters. My darlings, they are a dying.

Turkey Noodle Soup

My brother stopped by last night and our conversation wandered around to the topic of food. It’s not surprising. If I’m in a conversation, it often does. I like food. Mostly I eat because the alternative is dying, but I figure that if I’m going to be eating, it may as well be something good. Anyway, Jeremy mentioned that he’s doing more cooking these days and he asked for some noob friendly recipes. I love noob friendly food. Food that’s noob friendly means food that’s easy to prep and generally quick to cook. You know, weeknight food. I just got in from work and I’m starving and I don’t feel like waiting three hours to eat kind of food.

I made chicken noodle soup a few weeks ago and it was amazing. I actually dubbed it chicken noodle potato soup because I put in way more potatoes than the recipe called for. I like potatoes. Anyway, I made a turkey a few days and it was less amazing, but still pretty good. It gave me tons of leftovers, and after four days, I was getting tired of turkey. So I decided to make soup out of it.

So let’s talk ingredients. We start with protein. I’m using turkey, but you can use chicken. I commented to Carissa that we should pick up one of those $5 roasted chickens sometime, carve it up and use it for soup. That would be a real easy starting point for something like this. Soup’s a versatile thing, though. You can use whatever. I used chicken breasts last time and they were fine. I used four day old turkey today and it turned out great. The recipe I based this on calls for two cups. If you really like meat, use more. If all you have is a single chicken breast, that’ll work, too. Whatever. Soup don’t care.

Chop the protein into bite sized cubes and cook it in a big pot. I used a wide 2.5 gallon thing. You probably want something close to that size. Throw in some fat to keep the meat from sticking. 1 tbsp of olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, whatever. Cook the meat, set aside.

Next you need vegetables. We’re more or less going for a mirepoix here, but I go easier on the onion. I used normal carrots last time. It took a few minutes to peel them and chop them. Today I had a bag of baby carrots in the fridge. I just cut them in half. We’re aiming for about a cup here. Celery is required. Rinse it. Chop it. Easy. Again, about a cup. Onion is the third part of the holy trinity. I used a big, yellow onion. Chop it. It may be a cup, it may be more than a cup. Whatever. It’s an onion. They’re self-contained orbs of flavor. Take all the chopped veg and throw it into the pot where you just cooked the meat. Add some more fat (and tbsp or so), stir. Cook for 5 minutes or so, enough to soften the carrots and celery.

While the mirepoix is softening, crush three cloves of garlic. Chop. Throw in pot. Then you have to make a choice. Do you like potatoes? If yes, chop up half a dozen or so red potatoes. If not, chop up one. Or not. Soup don’t care. I like potatoes. I use half a dozen or so. Throw those bad boys in on top of the veg.

And finally the liquid. If you used the 2 cups of chicken, 1 cup of carrot, 1 cup of celery ratio, you need about 4 cans of chicken stock. Or 2 of the 28 ounce boxes. Puncture. Pour.

Now we need some things to add flavor. Get thee some fresh thyme. Alternatively, one of those little 99 cent plastic packages of thyme. You could probably use the dried stuff. I haven’t. Don’t be a heathen. Throw four or so sprigs of thyme into the pan. Throw in 3 chicken bullion cubes. If you have turkey bullion cubes, feel free to use those instead. Is there such a thing? I have no idea.

Stir all this nonsense up and bring it to a boil. Add the protein back to the big pot of bubbling goodness. Add half a bag of egg noodles. Or 8 ounces. It’s not an exact science. I used Always Save today. It’s a soup. Soup don’t care.

Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, chop some parsley. Half a cup or so. Throw that into the pot and stir. As you stir, look for those thyme twigs. Pull them out.

At this point, sample the broth. It’s expected that your tongue gets burned here. If it doesn’t, grats. I hate you. This would be a good time to add salt and pepper to taste.

Congratulations, your soup is done. Enjoy.

***

Summary:
2 tbsp olive oil
1c celery, chopped
1c carrot, chopped
1 onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2c cooked chicken or turkey
3 chicken bullion cubes
4 cans chicken stock (about 56 oz)
8 oz egg noodles
1/2 c of parsley, chopped

Cook protein in 1 tbsp oil. Remove
Cook celery, carrot, onion in remaining oil until celery and carrot soften.
Add thyme, stock, potato and garlic. Bring to boil.
Add chicken and noodles, reduce to simmer for 30 mins.
Add parsley at end. Salt and pepper to taste.

New Story

I wrote a short story for the girls a few weeks ago. Then I looked at the word count and compared it to some of the chapter books Sophia has (that are emblazoned with the Scholastic ribbon), and realized that for the first and second grade age group, 4,000 words is a book, not a short story.

I wrote a children’s book for the girls a few weeks ago. That sounds weird. It’s a fun little story, and of course it includes a dog. One can’t write a story for Sophia without including a dog. And since both girls are now in ballet lessons, I’ve worked that in, too.

The Girl Who Danced on the Moon Cover

After the older girls in ballet make fun of her, Jersey wants to quit dance forever. The only thing that can cheer her up is her dog, Bromley. When Bromley leads her into the trees near her house, she discovers a world unlike any she’s ever known–a world of fairies. The fairy Luna flies her high into the clouds and dances with her in the moonlight. Luna teaches Jersey what it means to believe in herself, but will it be enough for her return to ballet?

I’ve looked into getting it published in dead tree form through CreateSpace, but once I got the proof back I decided that I didn’t like how Word made the text look. I’m in the process of learning Adobe InDesign so I can make it look better, but InDesign is hard and I end up finding that I’d rather write something else or read something else, so I haven’t learned it well enough to get the book layout finished yet. Someday. Maybe.

Available for Kindle
Also available for Nook
And let’s not discriminate against Kobo
I’m discriminating against Apple because their process for self-publishing is terrible.

On Laptops

So I bought a netbook. I’ve been wanting something small that I could use with a real keyboard, and being home sick and unable to sit at a desk finally made me look into my options. I wanted something like a Macbook Air or maybe one of the Windows ultrabooks, but the $1000+ price tag was more than I wanted to spend. I did some poking around on Newegg and found a netbook that looked perfect.

I ended up with an Acer Aspire One 725. It has an AMD C60 dual core processor, a 320 gb hard drive (not solid state), 2gb of RAM, and a Radon 6290 video card. It also had Windows 7 Home Premium. Oh, and an 11 inch screen. When you consider that most of the other machines in the $300 price range had single core processors, 1gb of RAM, integrated video, a 10 inch screen and they were trying to run Windows 7 Starter Edition, this one seemed like the best value BY FAR. From the reviews I read, Windows 7 runs terribly with 1g of RAM, so one of the big selling points to me was that this had 2gb AND it had Home Premium.

So those are the specs, but how does it work? Really well. I’ve been using it non-stop since Friday afternoon when it arrived. The 11 screen gives the case a little extra width, so I have a nearly full size keyboard. The hardware specs have left me with no complaints. I’ve been doing a lot of typing and a lot of (too much) web browsing, and everything has been snappy. I haven’t seen any of the slowness that was a major complaint for other netbooks. Granted, it doesn’t take much to run Word and Chrome, but I’m not getting any lag when switching programs or poking around in Windows Explorer.

Even the battery life is good. I’m getting about 6 hours on a charge. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to write for 6 hours straight, but if I did, it’s not really a hassle to plugin somewhere and keep going. If I wanted to go outside and brave the 100 degree heat, I even have outlets on my deck. The only time I could see the battery life being an issue is if I’m traveling and the airport has no outlets. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. (To be honest, I’ll just run the battery down and then break out the Kindle.)

How does it handle games? I have no idea. I am conscientiously avoiding installing any on it. I really do intend for this to be my writing machine and I’m trying to avoid distractions. I hear that siren call of Football Manager, but I have my body lashed to the mast.

I have two complaints so far. I use the Home and End keys frequently when I’m in Word. On this keyboard, Home and End are only accessible by pressing Function and then Page Up or Page Down. To make matters worse, Page Up and Page Down aren’t on the top right where they belong—they’re on the bottom right tucked in with the arrow keys. I’m working around it, but it’s irritating. The second issue is the touchpad. I find myself typing along and suddenly I’m typing in the middle of a word somewhere two paragraphs above where my cursor should be. I think the problem is that my thumbs are brushing against the touchpad occasionally when I hit the spacebar. The touchpad works fine, but I really wish I had some easily accessible button that I could use to disable it when I’m typing. The worst case is that I end up plugging in another keyboard, but I’m going to try to adapt for a week or two before I take that step.

Overall, I really like it. It’s perfect for my needs and the price was excellent. I’ve already told Carissa that I’m planning to give it to Sophia in a year or two and buy myself an ultrabook of some sort, but in the meantime, this little Acer will do nicely.