Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Emdrive: The engine that runs on sunlight

A quick post because a pretty cool story came out of NASA yesterday about a rocket engine that's called an Emdrive, that's it above. That brass-thing that looks like it belongs on something from a steampunk story.

It's an engine that converts electrical energy into thrust. And, according to this article over at Sploid, that electrical energy can be generated with solar power. That means this engine doesn't need fuel. There's nothing that it needs to burn. That means that absent some mechanical breakdown, this engine could run forever. The idea wasn't NASA's. Credit for that goes to a team at Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd. Scientists at NASA built the second independent working model.


I don't know that I will ever come close to understanding the science behind the engine, I just know that the people who do understand it all can come up with some cool stuff.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trying to stay realistic in a difficult self-publishing journey

Zechariah 4:10


So, at church on Sunday we heard the last message from the summer At the Movies series. That's kind of what it sounds like. The pastor takes popular movies and shows clips providing Biblical lessons three or four times throughout. This week's movie was Rocky, something I hadn't seen in years but want to rewatch now.

Rocky. Obviously an underdog story. The first verse that the pastor shared was all about that. It was Zechariah 4:10:

"Do not despise these small beginnings,
for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin ..."

I've been thinking about this whole self-publishing/author-publisher thing I've been doing. It's slow and can be incredibly frustrating at times. I feel like I have written good books. I've told good stories. They are just having a hard time finding an audience for some reason. I did some math late last year. I think I've sold roughly 200 books since I started this in 2011. By itself, 200 isn't a small number. But in comparison to what others have sold it's nothing. I sell a book a month. Maybe two. It can get discouraging.

Organic discoverability is impossible
I try to tell myself a couple of things when it gets depressing checking sales and not seeing anything added to my ledger. First thing is there are over a million ebooks at Amazon. If anyone walked into a room and more than a million books were spread across the floor, what's the chance they'd pick up my book? Less than slim. But if I'm not doing anything to get my book in front of the people who might like it then that's exactly what I'm hoping will happen. I've run a few promotions for Chasing Filthy Lucre to varying degrees of success. And, again, success here is a relative term. I've got another promo ready to run this week. I'm hoping that will gain me a little visibility and jump start sales, at least modestly.

But hoping that people will just find my book isn't going to happen. And, as weird as that sounds, that helps me to handle the slow sales. Other than a tweet once a week or so, I'm not pushing the books so I can't really expect them to be found. There's just too much competition for eyeballs.

Most books don't have a long tail
The second thing I tell myself is that most books don't have that classic long tail of sales. Chart them, and most books sell a lot at the beginning and then the graph quickly falls off. Most of my sales of Chasing Filthy Lucre came in the first six months or so. Then things began to drop off and quickly reached the levels they are at now. So, again, it's a little unrealistic to expect sales to spike again. Could they pick up? Sure. But I'm not going to suddenly become a best seller, and I don't want that. Lie. I don't expect that, but I want it. I welcome it. But chances are much better than not it won't happen.

All of this sounds a bit like excuse making. I prefer to think that it's being realistic. It's me trying to temper that small part in the back of my brain that is always hopeful I'll see a handful of sales the next time I check my reports at all the sites I've books posted.

But I'm going to try and remember Zechariah 4:10 from here on out. "Do not despise small beginnings, for the Lord rejoice to see the work begin ..." And, looking at all the stuff I have planned and want to write, I have definitely just begun.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Hollywood: Here's my modest proposal


Did you watch Life On Mars? The U.S. version, not the English version. How about Awake, the show on NBC in 2011 about the detective who was living two lives. He knows that in one he's awake and in the other he's dreaming, but he doesn't know which is which. I did. I watched them both and really liked them both. Both lasted one season.

I used to watch a lot of TV. Not an obscene amount, but a lot. I had my shows that I liked. I was always an episode or two behind, but I kept up. Then a couple of seasons ago I got behind. I looked at the DVR and there were six episodes of one show on there. Eight of another. Seeing that, something clicked in me. I think I realized that I was so far behind it would take a concerted effort on my part to get caught up, and I just didn't have the desire to put forth that effort. So I deleted every episode of what I had saved. I just walked away from those shows. No more Elementary. No more Person Of Interest. The only thing I had left was Castle.

So going into this season, my decks were pretty clear. I could add shows if I wanted. Not much interested me except for Almost Human on Fox. I was excited by the premise. It was a bit like Chasing Filthy Lucre. Not a lot, but they had similarities. Then it aired, and it was actually good. The characters played well off one another. The hero is flawed. His partner was really a partner. I enjoyed it. Then I heard the talk. The show was expensive to produce. The audience had dwindled a bit after a strong opening. I was nervous. This was going to be another Life On Mars. It was going to be another Awake. A show I like a lot is going to get cancelled. Well, the announcement came down at the end of April. Almost Human:Cancelled.

I've been thinking about this. I'm tired of investing my time in something with nothing to show for it. So what I want to do is make a proposal to all of you Hollywood folks out there. All you actors, producers, directors. Anyone who has to commit to work on a TV series. If you get on a show and things aren't what you thought they'd be, I can help. For a modest fee, I will watch your show. I will become a fan. That way, for just a small fee, you can get out of your obligation. Because you are guaranteed that if I like your show it won't be around for Season 2. Heck, if I really like it, your show may not make it to mid-season.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Steadfast Stanley: Loyal dogs, charging zombies, and the power of a good pair of shoes

Cute little animated short about a boy, his dog, and the zombie apocalypse. I'll let you watch it then make a few comments. It's four minutes that's worth your time




So, I know that I'm supposed to think, what a great story of devotion, and I do. It's heartwarming at the end. But what I also thought, and rather surprisingly, I suppose, was that "Man, as a kid, I really believed in the power of the right pair of shoes." So when he puts his shoe back on and the music swells a bit and he walks out of the store confidently, I totally got that. When I was younger, in my head, there was nothing that I couldn't do with a new pair of shoes. I ran faster. I jumped higher. I turned quicker. I'd go to the end of the aisle, have my mom stand at the other end and tell her to watch how fast I could run and then how quickly I could stop. And I still think the right pair of shoes could make this 40 year old body a step faster.

Friday, May 2, 2014

My current musical obsession — Whiskeytown

Looking back at the most recent posts here, you'd think I'm a bit musically obsessed. I'm not. That's my brother. But I do like what I like. And I kind of run through phases. I'll be in old country for a while. Then I'll find some bluesy rock that's really scratching a musical itch. I recently started using Spotify at work. I don't really have a good reason for not signing up before. I was a Pandora guy, and I'd spent enough time giving songs a thumbs up or thumbs down that I had stations that were pretty much perfect. At least to my ears.

I still listen to Pandora quite a bit, but Spotify's different, and I don't think I appreciated those differences until I started playing with it. I'm still new to the platform, but the thing I've done the most with it so far is to get reacquainted with albums that I used to love, particularly late high school through college. That leads me to my current musical obsession — Whiskeytown. This group, led by Ryan Adams, put out the album Strangers Almanac in 1997 and a local radio station played the song 16 Days from that album. I don't typically buy an album for one song, but this one I did. I loved that song, but the entire album is great. Here's the link to it on Spotify. Take a listen. And if you don't have a Spotify account, sign up for one of those too.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ellie's growing up. Dad is too.



Some of my most distinct memories from childhood are playing with cousins and friends in someone's backyard in Kansas City. The yards always seemed bigger up there for some reason. I suppose part of that is because they were bigger. The homes are older and built on larger lots. While we played, though, the adults sat in folding chairs on the patio. They talked. The kids burned off extra energy.


This Easter I became one of the adults, and it seemed both weird and special. Ellie has two cousins on Gina's side, one a little older and one a little younger. And this was really the first time all three of them could go out in the backyard of Gina's parents house and play. There's a jungle gym out there. Ellie kept climbing up to ride the slide (In that picture up top she's getting ready to go down the slide). She played in the dirt with her older cousin.

I brought my camera and felt like I should grab a few pictures. I haven't been taking enough pictures of her lately. She's almost 2 now, and she's changing so fast. I should be documenting it better than I have been.

She's not the only one growing up, though. I'm starting to have those moments where tables are turned, and I'm sitting on a side that's not all that familiar, the adult side.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Big Block Sing Song is Magic

One of the cool things about having a little one who's almost 2 is that you get permission to watch stuff like this. I like all the Big Block Sing Song bits, but I saw this one for the first time today and it quickly became a favorite.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

My current musical obsession

I am completely obsessed with this song right now. I listen to it a few times a day. I can't explain why. Maybe it's the recording. The subtle instrumentation. The fact that it gives me a reason to subtle instrumentation in total seriousness.

I will confess to being in the middle of a Waylon phase, so that's probably part of it. The tune is by Bob Dylan, but this is easily the best version of the song I've ever heard. Part of it is Waylon's voice here, I think. It just seems to be the perfect fit for this breakup song. So, here you go. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.



Here's a bonus Waylon track, Wurlitzer Prize. It's easily my favorite song of his. And, again, it's a breakup song. Well, not exactly. This is a lost love song. Still, it's heartbreak.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February writing goals

First day of February. I'm two weeks into looking for a new job. Well, a little more than two weeks, but I'm rounding. Things feel promising in that regard. I've had conversations with a few people. I'm getting a little freelance work so money is still coming in. Trying to also increase the amount of fiction I complete since I have just a bit more free time. And I'm not being sarcastic there. My main job now is playing with Ellie during the day then trying to find  day job while she's napping. Still I have a few more minutes to focus on fiction. And that's the point of this post. Just getting my goals for the month out in the public. Maybe encourage some accountability. So, here's what I want to get done this month.

Finish edits on Reunion and Scouts. I'm almost done editing Reunion. I've identified some places I can fix a few things and some places that I can turn up the crazy a little. It's going to mean writing a couple more scenes and tweaking a couple others. Still haven't started on Scouts. That one will take a little more work. It's got a couple scenes that will need some major reworking, and I want to add a couple more scenes.

Like I said in a previous post, I've got new titles and new covers for these stories. I'm excited to get them loaded and see if they can find a little traction. I still think they are good and worth reading. I also think this series is going some fun places and want to write more in it.

Finish writing my pirates story. No, not traditional pirates. Sci fi pirates. Not space pirates exactly. It's kind of a combination. About 3,500 words into it now. Probably will end up between 8,000 and 10,000 words. It has a parallel structure that I like a lot, but it's causing some structure problems that I'll need to work out in the editing. It's a good story. though, that I think people will like.

Start edits on Filthy Lucre Book 2. I finished the first draft at the start of January. I was giving myself some time away from it. Feels like it's been long enough. Time to get cracking on the edits. Working title, by the way, is Finding Faded Light.

That's it. Modest goals, I think. All hittable. Now to do it. Happy February, folks.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How do you make a living as a freelancer?

I'm looking for work again. Details of why aren't important necessarily. I don't really have a lot of them other than that my previous employer felt like we were no longer a good fit. So, now I'm out looking for a new job. One of the things I'm considering after seeing what a good freelance writer can bring in is going that route. There are hassles that come along with it -- no insurance or other benefits, taxes are up to you, etc... . But if you're good at it and well-connected it can be pretty lucrative. And I know that those hassles I mentioned can be easily overcome with a little research and some help from the right professionals.

I thought for a brief moment about freelancing when I was looking for work a couple of years ago, but I didn't have the contacts I needed to do it right. I don't necessarily feel that way anymore. I feel like my two years in marketing have let me meet some great writers and some great people. That would make building a freelance career a little easier. Still it's a little scary when thinking that I wouldn't have a paycheck that's steady and regular. We like budgets in this house, call us crazy. Having months where you make $100 and other months where you bring in $10,000 make budgeting nearly impossible. I know that's something that can be overcome with a little planning and some steady, regular work.

I am taking on some freelance projects now while I continue to look for a new full-time gig. But I'm hoping that some of you might be able to help with tips or advice on how to make a freelance career work. So, if you've gone this route, how did you do it? How do you make it work?