How to Break Your Site In One Easy Step

News: 07/24/14 at 16:53:16 MDT by SafePit

News The Mistake
We all make mistakes. My mistake was not understanding the code behind the categories sections that my site uses. What I wanted to do was create a new category called “Writing” that I could log my NaNoWriMo entries to. It seemed simple enough. I went into the category administration section and created a new one. My mistake was wanting to reuse the news picture. It was late at night and I was in a hurry to get to bed. In my hast I forgot that the program links the picture and category name together. Worse, I didn’t even realize I’d done something wrong.

The Discovery
Yesterday, after I posted my latest ZX81 article I noticed a bit of an oddity. When I looked at the next two articles, I noticed that the program had listed the same article twice. The post was from earlier in the moth and didn't look right, so I started to dig. I pulled up the topics list, the file that drives the front page article list, and discovered the double entry as well as a several missing past articles. At this point, I realized I must have done something wrong and started digging further.

The CMS I use drives the category list from a file based on its name. I pulled up the news file and it only had a single article listed in it. I knew that was wrong because the news file should have a number of articles I've added to it over the years. Perplexed I tried to bring up the writing category. Wait, there wasn't one. Then I remembered my earlier decision to use the news category's picture. Instead of picking a creating a new category called "Writing" with the same picture as the news category, I'd actually used the same news file twice with two different category names. The program didn't know how to deal with this, nor did it prevent it from occurring. At this point, I realized I made a serious mistake.

The Fix
My first attempt to fix was to to use the program's category mangement interface to edit the list. If you didn’t know, I’m using an older version of Web-App.net to run my site. I choose it years ago because I’m a heavy Perl developer. Web-App.net was a good fit as I could add plug-ins and themes in a language I was comfortable with, yet the site was full featured and provided a nice base to work from. Perfect for a weekend project and ran generally. The one area that it falls short is in category management. When I went to fix the category, I realized that it didn't work the way I expected it to. I skipped the web front end and just edited the file.

The next problem I faced was moving articles back into the right categories. When I tried to move missing articles into the files it didn’t work. I figured out that the program drives the article list from the category files. If the article isn’t in the file, it doesn’t really exist. I was back to editing files. This poses a problem because if a topic isn't in one of those files, the CMS won't display it. Fortunately, I had an old copy of the news file. Although a good start, and I was able to fix the missing newer articles, I was still missing quite a few topics. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just pull up the full article list. If the article didn't show in the list, I knew that it was the one I needed to add back.

Then I ran into another problem. As you create an article the program adds a number to identify it. However, function that lists the articles sorted the article list by the category they're in, not by that number. Nice, I get to program again. I edited the routine to sort the list the way I wanted it to and, after a few tests, had a nice list of articles. Sure, it would have been easier to just list the topics not in an a category. unfortunately, that would have required a lot more effort. I opted for the more direct approach, just searching the list for missing numbers. After a few minutes of cutting and pasting I had my site back to normal. Mistake corrected.

The Future
There are still a number of issues with the CMS I’m using. It’s old, not even the latest version. I never upgraded because the newer version added features I really didn’t want. That means that I bound to run into a bug sooner or later. My investigation of the category problem made me think that the structure isn’t well suited for blogging. That said, it has worked well for a number of years and I really haven’t wanted to put in the time to build a new one. I’m still playing with WordPress and other blogging systems, but haven’t found the right features yet.

For now, I think I’m just going to stick with writing articles and working on other projects. Eventually I’ll make a decision to move to something else, but until then I’ll just have to live with a few bugs. The moral of this story is don’t cut corners.

Now where was I at in my novel? [ View Article ]

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Tags: article  bog  category  CMS  mistake  NaNoWriMo  perl  programming  WebAPP  zx81 

July's Program: Block £ Spear

Programming: 07/23/14 at 22:41:10 MDT by SafePit

Programming [Block £ Spear, 1984]Sorry, still no Joust. Itís not where I want it†and Iíve spent July working on my novel instead. That isn't to say that Iím going to leave July without a program of the month. Instead Iíve pulled from my original site to bring you one of my favorite programs, Block £ Spear. In this game you'll find yourself at the wrong end of a knightís spear. Fortunately, you have a shield and can easily deflect the spear by using the ďZĒ and ď.Ē keys to raise or lower your shield. Sounds easy? You might be surprised.

You can read more of this article or head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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Tags: block  monthly  program  spear  zx81 

How to Write a Book in Two Simple Steps

Writing: 07/08/14 at 02:59:15 MDT by SafePit

Writing [2014 Camp NaNoWriMo]Well, just past a week and I'm over a quarter of the way into the second half of my novel. I'm not sure this is the best way to write a book, but so far Camp NaNoWriMo has been a perfect excuse to scratch a long time itch. I'm no longer just reading about writing or scratching out silly blog entries, but putting thousands of words into Scrivener that I hope one day to publish for all to ridicule. Okay, I'm hoping the ridicule part isn't true, but I do want to get this book to a state that I can publish and hopefully entertain someone other than myself.

If you find your self in the same place as me, let me offer some advice. Just do it! I know, it sounds cheesy and too easy, but it really is that simple. You just need to find what motivates use and use that as a form of encouragement. For me, deadlines, reminders, and short-term targets help me focus on my long-term goals. Maybe it is the programmer in me, but breaking problems into smaller parts has always helped me to focus. In many ways, writing a novel is similar to writing a program. To start a program, I often write high level pseudocode that maps out how the program will work. This is very similar to writing an outline that guides how your story will flow. I would then flesh out each function, interactively improving them until the program is complete. When writing, I'm fleshing out each scene, iteratively improving them until I finish my story. Sure, the The syntax is a different (English Language vs. Perl or C), but both follow rules that help your audience reach a goal. Sure, a program's results are more dynamic versus the static prose of writing, but the process is very similar. I'm not assuming you are a coder, I'm just urging to look at what you have been succesful at and use those same techniques to help you write. For me, having an outline and working on scenes is similar enough to how I program. I can focus on a smaller scene of a few hundred words without worrying about how I'll write 50,000. If you find a task too big, find a way to break it down.

For the May Camp NaNoWriMo, I set reminders each day to tell me to write. It was silly, but by having them pop up on my phone as I arrived home it helped me build the habit of just writing. It worked very well, so well in fact that I don't even need the reminders this time around. My book is always in my mind and I'm thinking about how to fit it into my schedule, and push other things off. Not work mind you, I still have a day job. Not family, I still have to find time for the wife and kids. Nope, my other hobbies get shoved to the side. I still have my monthly ZX81 program, so it really means I'm not spending much time in POV-Ray or gaming. I still had to make sacrifices, but I'm enjoying the rewards from my new habit.

Which leads me back to July's Camp NaNoWriMo. I'm doing better this time around, keeping my focus on writing. Like I said, I'm not having to force or remind myself to write as much this time around. The outline I created before Camp started is much broader this time, focused at the chapter level. This gives me more flexibility when writing scenes. I can add or cut them on a whim and not feel constrained. I may not always know what I'm going to write each day, but I always get something down on paper. Hey, it's a first draft. Don't worry too much if things don't always add up just right.

One other thing I'm realizing is that I don't have to write every scene from beginning to end. Since I have a general outline I can actually work on a scene in any chapter. For example, yesterday I actually wrote most of the ending scene of my novel. I had a good idea in my head about how I wanted to end the book and decided I better get it down before I forget it. I think we often get hung up on how we should do things, when we should be challenging our norms. Like my structure problem, I found that once I shook myself from having to write linearly I was free to write what came to mind. Now, I could meet my daily targets and write down interesting scenes as they came to me.

Since Camp NaNoWriMo has a set goal in a set time period, it is pretty easy to chunk that out into a daily goal. Camp is a bit more flexible than the NaNoWriMo in November, but I stuck with the default 50,000 words. I used Scrivener to set my target and it automatically sets your daily target to reach your goal. If you use the NaNoWriMo demo version, it includes a template with the target already set for you. Now you can now track how well you're doing while writing. I found this very helpful in ensuring that I didn't quit too early. Sometimes I didn't need it, but it helped on days when I was struggling to write and needed a bit of encouragement to get me through it. Your mileage may vary, but it worked for me. You can also just count your words and enter it on the NaNoWriMo site to track your daily progress. Or, like me, do both.

But wait, doesn't that title say two simple steps? Why yes. Yes it does. Those two steps were May and July. Confused? Don't be. Let me tell you that 50K isn't much. For a first book, it may seem very daunting. It was for me. But as I got closer and closer to the that target, I came to realize that 50K words isn't enough. My plot had outgrown my original outline and I realized that I had a lot more to tell. Plus, 50K is a pretty short book, about 120 pages. 100K words is realistic, about 240 pages. That is a good novel size, especially for Sci-Fi. Since Camp is two months, separated by a month in between, I realized that I was actually writing two halves of my novel. Having that month in between really helped me take a breath. I stopped writing, allowing myself to think about what went right, what went wrong, and what changes I could make. This resulted in my writing becoming two: May and July. See, easy peasy.

Okay, one last thing. You don't have to wait for Camp NaNoWriMo. Find your own cadence, create your own targets or even split your writing up over a couple of years. Whatever works for you. The trick is starting. Just do it! [ View Article ]

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Tags: book  camp  NaNoWriMo  novel  programming  Scrivener  writing 

Prepping for Camp NaNoWriMo: Structure

Writing: 06/30/14 at 22:51:21 MDT by SafePit

Writing [2014 Camp NaNoWriMo]Let me be honest. I had no clue what I was doing when I started Mayís Camp NaNoWriMo. Sure, I knew I wanted to write a novel and had a general idea of what the story would be about. I had a rough outline of the plot and some guiding themes I wanted to encompass. Since I was writing a sci-fi novel, I wanted the world to feel real yet fantastic so I created a list of†what I thought was possible and what I wanted to stay away from. But I really didnít understand how to structure a novel. In many ways, I still donít.

You see, my ideas of how to write a book date back to high school when I was writing short stories. In my mind, regardless of the countless books Iíve read that should tell me otherwise, chapters were self-contained. For me chapters weren't meant to be divided up into smaller pieces.†The concept of scenes was foreign to me. I didnít really know what a scene was or how it could help me be a better writer. Up to this point, all of my writing was short and focused, so my chapter concept made sense to me. I hadnít yet embarked down the path of a large story with many interweaving plots that formed a cohesive story. Letís say, I learned quickly that my outline wasnít sufficient.

I should have know something was wrong with my thinking when I opened up Scrivener for the first time. Up to this point, Iíd been using FocusWriter as my primary writing tool. If you are looking got a stream of conscious writing tool and an interface that gets out of your way, look no further. Although FocusWriter is great for blogging, I†found it†cumbersome when organizing larger efforts. In came Scrivener.

Iíd heard of Scrivener before from following writing blogs and such, but it was the extended trial version for Camp NaNoWriMo that got me to download and try it out. It is a great little program. I highly recommend watching the tutorials before using it for the first time though. It is very powerful, and at times overwhelming, but the time spent learning it is worth it. Needless to say, I fought it. Remember my scene challenge? Yep, still didnít make sense to me. I wanted to use chapters and didnít understand why I would break things down any further. I even went so far as to redo the default template to do what I thought was right. Dumb. Like I know better than other authors.

About a week into writing I noticed that things werenít feeling right. I realized I was doing it all wrong. My outline wasnít cutting it and I really needed to expand my story. I paused my writing, let my mind percolate, and then started to organize around scenes. My chapters became smaller scenes that I kept small and focused. I started to organize those scenes into chapters, allowing action from different plot lines to converge. About halfway through the month, I decided to organize the chapters into parts to help me track the timing of major events. I now had some structure around my story and my writing started to flow, but I was still learning.

One of the nice thing about Scrivener is that you can arrange and rearrange things as much as youíd like. That meant that as I experimented and learned how to organize my novel, I didnít lose what Iíd already written. Be careful though. If you are like me, you can easily get lost in editing. I had a 50,000 word goal I was working towards and that time could have spent writing For me it ended up being time well spent. I was now managing my story instead of shaking myself in wrong . With structure around my story, I developed†new story flows that I focused my writing on.

Another†Scrivener†feature that helped me manage my story's structure is the cork board. The cork board provides index cards, filled with the synopsis text, that I eventually used to plan out my story. When I started, I put my original outline into the chapter synopses. As I allowed my story to develop, I began adding more and more scenes, each one's synopsis filled with a small blurb about what was going on. I then arranged those scenes into chapters using the cork board. It was a very iterative process that will continue to evolve until I finish my novel.

For Julyís Camp NaNoWriMo†I have decided to start with a more traditional novel layout. Based on a my word count goals, I created 19 chapters each with 5 scenes. I donít expect to end with those numbers, they are just place holders while I write. Iíve sketched out the basic story flow for these chapters which should help me settle down and focus on my writing. My goal at the moment is to finish with enough words on paper to make it to my 2nd revision. Iím still not sure Iím doing it right, but at least Iím not trying to reinvent the wheel this time around. [ View Article ]

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Tags: camp  chapter  cork board  FocusWriter  index card  NaNoWriMo  scene  Scrivener  structure  synopsis 

June's Program: Monster Maker

Programming: 06/08/14 at 20:53:19 MDT by SafePit

Programming [Monster Maker, 1983]Okay I haven’t finished my remake of Joust yet, nor did I want to wait until the last week of the month to get an article out. Instead, I offer you Monster Maker as June’s monthly program. It’s pretty straight forward and anti-climatic against the power of today’s programs. Once you load it, enter in five numbers and type your monster’s name. That’s it. The program will then display a nicely formatted monster description based on your input.

You can read more of this article or head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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May's Program: Joust

Programming: 05/28/14 at 21:08:15 MDT by SafePit

Programming [Joust, 1984]I actually started working on May’s program of the month, Joust, about three weeks ago. My goal was to update the program to a faster and more fluid MCODER version. Sadly, things haven’t gone so well. Pressed for time, I will leave you instead with my original take on this popular arcade from the 80s. This version, I created several, was pulled from one of my cassette tapes. Given this is a 9K program, loading it on a real ZX81 would take several minutes. Due to the magic of modern technology, you can now load this in seconds. Use the “Z” key to move left, the “.” key to move up and the “N” key to flap up. Since this is a ZX81, you can’t hold down multiple keys simultaneously. This shouldn’t be much of a problem as this BASIC program is pretty slow. Given the limitations of the ZX81, it doesn’t look too bad. Overall, however, the game pretty much sucks.

Head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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My Crazy April

Writing: 05/07/14 at 19:37:20 MDT by SafePit

Writing “[2014As I noted in my ZX81 update, April was a different month for me. For some time, dating back to my time in college, I've wanted to write a book. About the most I'd ever done was create an outline and write a couple of scenes. I never really progressed beyond that, but there was always that nagging wish to do more. In an attempt to keep that 20+ year want current, I often read writing articles or follow the occasional writers blog. As I stumbled around I ran across National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. For those not familiar with it, the site basically offers you a challenge to write a 50,000 words in 30 days. Complete the challenge and you win. It is really a way to force yourself to write on a tight deadline. That sounded great, but NaNoWriMo is held each November and I had missed last year's start. I held off for a bit, then decided I'd sign up in the hopes of trying it out this November.

Then came a surprise. I received an email telling me about an April writing event called Camp NaNoWriMo, something I didn't have any clue about. I'd actually started to outline a book in January, some pre-work for the eventual November event. Here I was in March facing an opportunity to complete a challenge now in April. Pushing aside my normal tendency to procrastinate, I decided to jump at the chance. What a ride!

Here I am 30 days and 52,000 words later. I have a good part of my first Novel complete. It's still the 1st draft and I have another 10-20 thousand words to go to finish it, but it sure feels good having gotten this far. If you check out my stats, you'll find it wasn't easy. I started off okay, but fell behind during the first week, being over 10K behind by the 10th day. I had a hard time writing, and found it easy to find excuses to avoid. Around the 11th day, I dug in, but that hole would sit with me until day 23 when I finally caught back up to my average. I actually put some marathon writing sessions at the end of the challenge, finishing on day 25. I submitted by winning count that day, and then slacked off in celebration.

Let me say, it was a great experience. It forced me to write. I had to think of how to layout a book, develop and manage characters, build and follow a plot, and so on. As you can see from my statistics, it wasn't all roses. There were times where writing was a chore or I just couldn't put much down on paper. But once I got into it, the words flowed and I really enjoyed the act of getting my story out. In the end, it was all good fun.

So am I an author? Let me say that I'm not there yet. As I noted earlier, I still have work to do to finish my story and 50,000 words isn't a very long novel. Camp starts again in July, they run it twice a year, so perhaps I'll use that time to work on my 2nd draft. But I'm finding it hard to get back to my story now that the challenge is over. I guess a deadline really does help. In any case, I won't consider myself done until I've edited it and published it out for the world to critique. In any case, it is the process that matters for me, whether the book is good or bad doesn't matter at this point. Although my daughter is liking it thus far.

Would I recommend this experience to others? If you are an aspiring writer and you're having a tough time getting into it, I whole heartily think you should. Whether you give the official NaMoWriMo in November a try or one the two Camps in April and July, it is well worth it. The worst that can come of the attempt is that you don't get through your goal and you'll know if this writing thing is for you. To put it in perspective, of the 12 participants in my Camp NaNoWriMo cabin, only two of us finished our goals. That means 83% of my fellow campers didn't hit their goals, and most of those ended up with 0 words written. No judgement on them. They at least joined and gave it a shot. If you do hit your goal, well done! Relish the joy of completing something.

As for what's next, I'm sitting in May with a lot of good memories and lessons learned. I'm setting a new goal to complete my first draft by the end of the month. I'm going to have my family read it and give me some honest feedback. Then I'm going to sit on it. Maybe a month or two, maybe longer. But I'm not giving up. I've scratched the writing itch and I can't stop now until I'm done. [ View Article ]

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Tags: april  book  camp  namowrimo  novel  writing 

April's ZX81 Program: Flywheel

Programming: 04/27/14 at 01:32:49 MDT by SafePit

Programming “[Flywheel,April has been a crazy month. I decided to try something new, pushed along by an unexpected event. I'm writing a book.

Not wanting to skip a month, I dug into my past for April's program of the month. From my first ZX81 site, I present Flywheel. It is an easy to play racing game. Just dodge the oncoming tail lights using the "Z" and "." keys to move left and right. Take off from the starting line, pass the cars, avoid the curves, and have fun! You'll rack up about 500 to 1000 points per round. How high a score can you achieve?

Head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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Tags: flywheel  monthly  program  zx81 

March's ZX81 Program: The Ball Redux

Programming: 03/29/14 at 16:44:20 MDT by SafePit

Programming [The Ball, 1983/2012/2014]For March's program of the month, I drew inspiration from one of my older demo’s, The Ball. Like many young kids from the early eighties using BASIC, I took a stab at animating a bouncing ball. It is a a relatively easy program to write depending on how complex you want to make the math. In my case, it is very simple math, no physics involved here. I wanted something a little more interesting, however, and decided to add curtains. As the ball moves behind them them it changes colors. The Ball is still a very slow demo though, so in 2012 I sped it up by compiling it with MCODER II. This month’s program is based on both versions, merged together to show you the difference between them. The Ball Redux combines a little old with a little new, but at its core is still my original program.

Head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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Tags: ball  monthly  program  zx81 

New ZX81 Program: Time

Programming: 02/16/14 at 12:36:59 MDT by SafePit

Programming [Time, 1985]I've updated my latest ZX81 program of the month. For February, I give you Time, a simple landing game with a twist. Using the ďZĒ and ď.Ē keys, you maneuver your craft to each successive landing pad. If you miss the landing, keep trying but be careful. Run out of time and itís game over! How high of a score can you amass? A fair warning, Time isnít always fair.

Head on over to my ZX81 site to catch up on past programs of the month. [ View Article ]

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