Monday, May 23, 2005

Signing the Contract

In the old days, when I sold a story to ANALOG and some other magazines, they just sent a check. Now this wasn't an ordinary check -- it had a little contract written on it. So, when you endorsed the check to deposit it, you also signed the contract. Well, aside from the dodge of depositing it with only the phrase 'For Deposit Only' on the check instead of a signature, it wasn't a horrible deal if you were dealing with respectable markets. However, I suspect someone challenged the legality of the contract-on-the-check method, because it's more involved these days.

I received the envelope from Dell Magazines. I had been waiting for it, and once again, for just a second, I thought it was from Dell Computers. The last time this happened I was out of town and the person handling the mail for us made the same mistake and put it in the stack with the advertising flyers and other junk mail.

But I was ready for it this time. Inside were two copies of a contract. I had to sign both and send them back. After "four to six weeks", I'll get my copy of the contract and finally, a check. There was something to be said for the immediacy of the old way.

The contract was plain and simple. The was the dollar amount listed for their use of it, with my guarantee not to sell if for another use during the same time frame. There were additional options, just in case they wanted to use it for anthologies or foreign editions, etc. There was a little more cash offered if they did that, but that's not a given. If I were famous, I'd probably be wise to mark out those and charge more for my award-winning prose, but I'll worry about that later.

They also asked for an emailed copy of the manuscript. They need a nice paper copy for submission, but when it comes to composing the magazine, an nice text file certainly reduces the chances for errors.

Now, all I have to do is wait. A month for the check. Probably six to twelve months for the story to be published. After that, I'll file for the copyright. Ah! The hectic pace of modern publication.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Starting a New Book

There is a period of time after I've finished a project where I'm at loose ends. When I'm between projects, I'm most likely to be depressed and unsure about what I'm doing. But, I can't create the idea for a new book on demand -- at least not instantly.

Over the past three or four days, an idea has started to form about what my next book will be. Yesterday, I created the database entry (opus 0094) and set up the directory for the project on my computer. All I have is the template for my project file and a vague plot outline. Over the next few weeks, I'll be doing research and starting my outline.

Outline writing is my own private introduction to the story. In it, I learn who the characters are and what they want. By the time I'm done, I'll know what happens and the destiny of my characters. I don't know that yet, and it is an exciting time, the time of discovery.

Research has already started. Some things I don't even realize I need to know. I'll learn on the fly. But others are so critical to the plot and character development that I have to ask a few questions before I can even start to name my characters.

This afternoon, I drove over to Taylor, looking for small motels. That is my starting point. The main character in the story works at a family owned and operated motel in a small town. I walked into a little place, and the main desk was unattended. There was a bell and I could have slapped that button and the lady would have appeared instantly, but instead I waited, looking over the office, examining the photos and plaques on the wall, soaking up the paperwork on the desk between the phone and the machine that programs the plastic keys.

Images are starting to form. Ideas for events are starting to gel. It's a good time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Changing the Icecubes

Mary Ann's laptop, a Mac Titanium, is a little over three years old. I noticed that the last time I checked the warranties. Apple only supports the things for three years. I suppose there are repair methods other than Applecare, but I had been looking to upgrade her system for the past few months anyway. She's always doing heavy Photoshop work on it, and she's always been filling the hard drive. She's got over a terabyte of external hard drive space for her photos, but only a little less than 10 gig at best for fresh photos before she burns them to DVD.

So, when I came back from the hardware store and saw her checking the web on my laptop, I was a little confused. She said her laptop was turned off because it was locking up.

I knew what I'd be doing for the next few hours.

First order of business, get a full backup. Her system booted was terribly, terribly slow. Not a good sign. I booted off the install DVD and attempted to check the hard drive. The system ran okay, but Disk Utility couldn't attempt a repair because it couldn't dismount the drive. I put her laptop in target disk mode and tried that way, no luck. Disk Utility couldn't make a disk image back up for the same reason. Carbon Copy Cloner was the best bet, but it doesn't yet run under Tiger.

So booting off of her defective 10.3.9 drive, I connected one of the external firewire drives and attempted the backup. It only got 44mb out of a 44gb disk. Same thing the second time. I suspected that the hard drive was failing when the temperature got too hot, and keeping the bottom cool with a wet napkin only worked a little bit.

The third attempt I installed 'Hardware Monitor Lite' on her system so I could watch the temperature of the drive, and then I rested the laptop on a tray of ice. I'm currently into 30 gb of the backup and as long as I keep draining off the melt water and changing the ice cubes, it seemes content to just keep running. I'm working hard to keep the drive temperature under 40 degrees C. I don't know what it's limits are, but 38-40 works. I know I'll be up late tonight.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Cinnamon is Empty

We woke up in a pleasant spot, with the birds calling. Of course this is an interstate Rest Area (you know, the blue signs?) so there was also the rumble of traffic noise and the throb of diesel engines. But those are noises we have come to accept as background. Mary Ann even likes the diesel noises. We passed up a Picnic area for our overnight stop for an Offical Rest Area because she feels comfortable parked next to all those big trucks. Safer, she says.

So waking up on a morning like this is a pleasant combination of things. We are in deep West Texas, with the nearest town of any kind far over the horizon. This rest area is a watereed oasis in an land much closer to desert than praire. I-10 follows a long river valley. There are cliffs to the north and south, off five to ten miles in both directions. Because of the unusual rains, it is green. There was a morning fog, but it has burned off now. Mary Ann checks her email and watches the birds outside. A ringed turtledove is this morning's star performer.

Out the front window, we watch as a tow truck has to rescue a stranded motorist. What was his story, I wonder?

While an 18-wheeler rumbles by just outside the window, I prepared my morning oatmeal, and checked my email. Today was the last cinnamon from the shaker. A good omen that the trip ( at least this one) is over. We have just under 300 miles to go, if the map program knows what it's talking about.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Together Today

Yesterday was an interesting travel day. Mary Ann had a few chores to complete in LA before heading out, but we had 1500 miles to make in two days. The problem was that we had never made that many miles per day in the RV. While I've done more than a thousand travel miles in one day before, that was in a car. RV travel is definitely slower. While I can get the RV up to 80 in a pinch, it doesn't cruise well at speed-limit+. A comfortable pace is more like 55-65. Sometime 70. In addition, we have to stop earlier. There is less flexibility about finding a good parking place for a large vehicle. There's less acceleration, harder hill climbing, and wind problems. In all, I've found that a good hard driving day on our RV rarily exceeds 600 miles.

1500/2=750. I had to start immediately to have any hope of getting to the business meeting on time.

So, Mary Ann took the Jeep. She attended to her exercises and other business. I headed east immediately. The theory was that she could catch up with me sometime during the day.

At first it looked like it would work. She was a hundred miles behind me. Then at another checkpoint, about 70. Then 61. Then 50. Then 60. Oops. There were problems. The RV has a huge gas tank, compared to the Jeep. Mary Ann was having to stop more frequently for gas, food, bathroom breaks, etc.

Then came the news. The meeting we were racing to attend had been rescheduled. We now had four days to make it. The pressure was off. It was nearing the end of the day so I just waited at the last fuel stop for her to arrive. I didn't like being apart in the dark, where it would be too easy for us to miss-connect.

We stopped, finally at a roadside park in Texas Canyon, after making about 600 miles.

So, today, we traveled together, the Jeep in tow. It was a pleasant day, with long straight miles, and less pressure. We even stopped before sunset, at a roadside park off I-10 in West Texas. We made almost 600 miles.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Heading Home

Well, it wasn't our first plan. We had moved up the PCH to Thornhill Broome Beach, where we could camp out next to the water, intending to stay for a couple of days before moving inland. It's a rocky beach, with sand next to the campsites, and then boulders (five to twenty pounders) down by the surf. Listening to the waves churn and tumble the rocks is fun. Plus, the water gets deep quickly, and the dophins swim by within easy reach. You can hear them blow.

The first time I walked down to the surf line, I met a man who had dropped in to the camp to rest on his journey. He was from South Korea, now a plastic surgeon in Boston, taking a loop vacation. He'd gone down from Boston to Key West, then actross the South to Texas, then on to San Diego. He was heading up toward San Francisco, then back through Salt Lake, Denver, St. Louis, and on back to Boston. All by himself in a car. Sounds reasonable to me.

But a business meeting popped up on our radar and we need to get back to Texas, immediately. It's a beautiful morning here north of Malibu, but it's time to leave.

Now to stow the satellite dish and get back on the road.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Several items

Hello Karen, I've turned on the comments section as you asked. I don't know how this works, so it's an experiment for me.

Today we got a new phone for Mary Ann. Her old reliable Motorola flip-phone flipped once too many times and the hinge broke. So now we're playing with the new gadget -- attempting to use Bluetooth. Unfortunately the LG PM325 phone we bought looks a little crippled as far as Bluetooth goes. It's a shame that Sprint has such poor offerings.

As far as Skype goes -- we have used it several times, especially in Death Valley where the only telecommunications is one very expensive pay phone. Talking to people over the satellite link takes a little getting used to. There is that long delay while the radio waves go bounce off the sky (metaphorically) and people on both ends have to get used to the uncomfortable pauses. In addition, the voice quality on the other end is worse than what we hear.

It was worse when I tried to access my cellphone's voicemail system. (no cell coverage in Death Valley). The voice cues to help you access your account, coupled with the satellite delay, made it nearly impossible for me to log in.

Now most of these problems go away when used with a cable modem or DSL since there is no satellite latency, so I could imagine that Skype would be very handy for international calls. It's pretty cheap to experiment. You buy phone time in 10 euro lots on the web and the per minute charge is minimal. I've still got 9.50 left in my account. Of course Skype to Skype is free.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Expensive Rock

We're back from the car trip to San Francisco. Debra has dropped back into study mode as she dives into her new class. Yesterday I picked up the Jeep from the dealer. If I'd dodged that rock back in Death Valley, I'd be $1500 richer. But, at least now we have our own car. Debra was nice enough to ferry us around, but having mobility on your own is nice.

I had intended to get a new soft top for the Jeep, while it was at the dealer, but the price quote for a factory replacement seemed too expensive. It would have doubled the bill, while the catalog prices for a Bestop third party replacement was under $500. Now if I can just find a place to do the replacement while I wait here in the LA area. Otherwise, I'll just have to live with the worn out one until we return to Hutto.

The RV campsite has a two week limit for this particular parking space, so unless we upgrade to a more expensive spot, we will be moving on in another day. The only things that are keeping us here are Mary Ann's photo flash repair, a bundle of mail forwarded from Hutto, and a perfect sunset photo shoot for Mary Ann.

By the way, I've sold another story to ANALOG. It's called 'Wildlife' and it's about a nature photographer on the moon.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Making Backups and getting Pills

I have a few hours by myself here in the hotel room, so I'm taking the opportunity to run a few backups to my iPod. Having a 40GB ipod, even though I only have 8GB of music makes perfect sense if you consider it just another expernal hard drive.

Earlier today, I walked a little through San Francisco after I attempted to get a perscription for my Diabetes medicine filled. It's an interesting place. Unfortunately, the good feelings I had from yesterday's walk have been tainted a bit by today's experiences. I guess every city has its good parts and its bad. Yesterday, I would have ranked San Francisco in the top five of the cities I like, based on my own experiences. Now its no more than in the top twenty. Still not bad.

Speaking of medicine, this has been a learning experience. I take Avandamet, to help me regulate my blood sugar. Over a month ago I went to the web site to request a refill. All my other medicines filled, but Caremark was out of Avandamet, and suggested I try again in a few weeks. Well, several days ago, I went the web site and discovered that none of my web browsers worked. After several attempts I called their customer service and learned that their web site only supports Internet Explorer 5.5 or better.

I use a Mac, and the most recent IE on the Mac is 5.2.3. Microsoft has given up making any improvements on their browser for the Mac. So to get a perscription, I have to have a Windows computer? I tried all the modern browsers, but none of the worked, not even Firefox on Windows. IE on Windows is so great a security risk that no one should use it for anything.

While expressing my displeasure to the customer service person as firmly and politely as I could, he offered to make the perscription refill over the phone. But, oops. They were still out of Avandamet. Now Humanna, which is my medical insurance people, prohibits me from using local pharmacies except under special circumstances, so why are the out of a relatively common medication for weeks at a time?

Traveling, it was difficult to find the time to call my doctor to get a replacement perscription, but yesterday, I called around and found a local Walgreens and asked it they had the Avandamet I needed. They checked and said yes. But by the time I called my doctor back in Texas, the office was closed.

This morning, I tried again, and after several calls I reached a Real Person. Yes, they had gotten my voicemail and were at that very minute calling the San Francisco Wallgreens with my new perscription. Oh joy!

So as Mary Ann and Debra went off to do their touristy things, I learned how to do Bus travel in San Francisco and arrived at the Walgreens. All went well, except they were nearly out of Avandamet. They gave me a partial fill and told me to come back tomorrow. Oh well. One more time to see the sights.