I’m Moving!

Well, this blog is, anyway.  This will be the last post on this blog, although I intend to leave it up rather than try and move everything to the new blog at my website.

Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to read my ramblings, and I hope you’ll join me in my new digs.

Seriously, come by.  I’ll get lonely if you don’t.

Regards,

Michael

The $0.25 craft knife

So I’ve been slowly rebuilding my set of carving tools that disappeared when we moved.

I found a dremel-style rotary tool at a ridiculously low price at Harbour Freight, and an X-acto knock-off set, along with a set of needle files, on the clearance aisle at Walmart for a dollar each.  But what I was still missing my good carving tools.

The rotary tool works great for most projects, but sometimes you simply need a knife.  The not-really-X-acto set works okay for a lot of it, but the blades wear out fast, and replacing them was going to quickly add up to more money than I want to put out for tools that only work “okay.”  So, I needed knives.

There’s the rub; I’m too cheap to pay for the high-end commercial knives, and too picky to settle for the cheaper ones.  The solution:  make my own.

I started by researching, naturally, and decided that stock removal was the way to go.  And since the whole point was to avoid a massive layout of cash, I needed steel that I didn’t have to have heat-treated.  The solution?  Use a knife to make a knife.  In this case, I used a stainless steel table knife, more commonly known as a butter knife.

I found an Instructable that fit the bill, and set out to make my own.  I chose a simple design that I’m familiar with, and got to work.

Here’s the result:

IMG_4721IMG_4722IMG_4723

Start by choosing a butter knife with a minimalist design to the handle; this will make attaching handle scales or cord wrapping much easier.  I found mine at the local big chain mart at $0.98 for a four-pack.  Give the blade a quick flex to make sure it springs back into line; if it does, then it will work just fine.

To prevent marking the blade and make cutting easier, next time I’ll cover the blade in masking tape, a step I skipped in my impatience.  This should make laying out your design much easier, as well.

I used the rotary tool and a heavy-duty cutoff wheel to cut the blade shape and establish the edge.  Care must be taken not to overheat the steel, so I doused it regularly with water.  This had the extra benefit of keeping the majority of the steel dust out of the air.  Obviously a bench grinder or belt sander would make the whole process easier, but the point was to make do with what I had.

After that, I roughed up the handle of the butter knife with some sandpaper, and attached the wood scales, which are simply craft sticks I found around the house, using contact cement.  Since a bottle of this stuff costs around $4, and I’ve never actually known anyone who went through an entire bottle, the cost of the tiny amount of glue needed was negligible, much less than 1 cent.  The handles could be just as easily any piece of scrap wood you have lying around.

Those familiar with Japanese knives might recognize the shape as a kiridashi, a common utility knife.  The X-acto knife is simply a disposable-bladed kiridashi.  Unlike traditional kiridashi, however, I went with a double-bevel edge grind for greater utility.

Once the edge was established, a few minutes on a diamond sharpening stone (use the sharpening system of your choice, however) had it slicing paper-thin curls of wood from a test block.  I plan on doing more of these, in different blade profiles.  I’ll update this post with those results.  I’ll also update when I see how long the edge lasts before needing sharpening again.

Survivalists/hikers/campers might find a few of these to be a useful afternoon project.  Are they top of the line?  No.  Will they perform on par with even an entry-level bush or field knife?  Probably not.  But at $0.25 each, they could definitely prove useful for a myriad of small tasks, and allow you to preserve the edge on your “good” knife for more important things.

 

 

 

 

And the search continues…

I give up.

frustrated
For months now I’ve been searching for a writing group.

A real writing group, where members read and critique each other’s work, offer suggestions and support, and generally share their love of the craft.  Here’s what I’ve found, instead.  Keep in mind, not all of these are bad things, and some of them have been very beneficial.  But I’m still looking for the right group:

  • Places where authors advertise their work–to other authors.
  • Places where authors can coordinate promotions and giveaways–this has been awesome!
  • Places where people go to whine about rejection letters and share excuses as to why they aren’t writing. These annoy me.

I’m currently waiting on an email response from a local group, but if that doesn’t pan out, I may have to start one of my own. If I do, here are the basic ground rules:

  • HONEST critiques are welcome; no one benefits from “That’s lovely, dear” without real input. However, respect will be shown to all members and their work. If you can’t figure out how to say what you need to say without being a douchebag, maybe you shouldn’t be writing.
  • There are countless forums, Facebook groups, and websites where you can post advertisements for your work. This will not be one of them. The purpose of this group will be for members to recieve and give input on their work in progress.
  • While we all know how important reviews are, this isn’t going to be a review-trading forum. Should someone read your book and feel compelled to leave a review, fine. But no “I’ll review yours if you review mine” nonsense.

Thoughts? Input? Additions?  Just want to tell me I’m crazy?  I’d really much prefer to find and join an existing group, as I’m insanely busy as it is, and I hate starting something I can’t keep up with. If you know of an existing group like this, either online or locally in the Springfield, MO area, leave me a comment and let me know.

Spend less time getting ready to write, and more time WRITING!

If you’re anything like me, every minute of writing time is valuable, and time spent getting everything ready to go feels  wasted.  I thought I’d share some of the little things I do to get to writing faster.

Want to automate your writing process?  Have a lot of files you open and use regularly?  Just want to free up some of your valuable writing time?  Use a batch file to get all your ducks in a row with one double-click.

Put simply, a batch file is a list of commands in a text file that’s been made executable. They are most often used to automate daily tasks, in this particular case, opening a set of files.

(Note: these directions are for Windows. I don’t know nearly enough about Macs to tell you how to do much beyond turn the thing on :D)

Start by opening a plain text editor. Notepad is the most common if you use Windows, but there are several other feature-packed free text editors for Windows. I use Notepad++. DO NOT use a word processor like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice Writer; they add formatting which is incompatible in a batch file.

In your text editor, start by typing the line (without quotes)

“@echo off”

“Echo” is a command that displays text in the command prompt window, and will just clutter things up.  This line turns echo off.

Before we go any further, you need to decide what files you want to open. For me, I have my MS, my notes, my outline, and my character profiles. Although the path names will be different (we’ll get to that in a moment) here’s what the commands look like:

start C:\Users\Michael\Documents\fake_project\fake_document.doc

If you use something other than Word, your file extension will be different. Look at the file’s properties to determine the right extension

Since I have four files to open, I’ll add three more commands:

start C:\Users\Michael\Documents\fake_project\fake_document2.doc
start C:\Users\Michael\Documents\fake_project\fake_document3.doc
start C:\Users\Michael\Documents\fake_project\fake_document4.doc

There are several ways to determine your file’s proper path name, which is really nothing more than a list of directions the batch file will use to find the file you want open. If you don’t tell it where to look, it can’t help you! The easiest way to find the right path is:

Navigate to the folder where your file is stored. Don’t use a shortcut; it’s not the same. 

Right-click on the file, and then left-click on Properties. A box like this one will pop up:

properties window

properties window

The area I’ve highlighted is what you’re looking for. Highlight it with your mouse, right-click and select “Copy” or just hold down CTRL and press C.

Go back to your text editor. On the line after @echo off, type in “start” (without quotes), space bar, and then right-click and select “Paste” or hold CTRL and press V. This gives the command the path name, but we still have to tell it which file it’s looking for.

A word about file names: Batch files originated with the old DOS systems, and still behave that way. DOS doesn’t like spaces in file names. If your file name has spaces in it, which Windows has no problem with, you can make batch files find them by renaming the file, replacing the spaces with an underscore ( _ ) such as “file_name” instead of “file name”.

At the end of the line with your path, add another slash “\” usually located right above the ENTER key. Now type in your file name, remembering to type it exactly. DOS doesn’t know what a typo is, and it won’t search. Don’t forget the extension (.doc or .docx if you use Word, .odt if you use OpenOffice.)

Do this for all the files you want to open, putting each command on a separate line. Your final file will look something like this:

@echo off
start fake file path\file_name
start fake file path\file_name
start fake file path\file_name

The same method will work to open multiple programs at once.  For instance, I use notepad and my browser when doing research, so I have another batch file named RESEARCH.bat that opens them for me:

@echo off
start notepad.exe
start chrome.exe “www.google.com”

This opens my browser window, and a new notepad file all at the same time.

Now it’s time to save it. I save mine to my desktop, where I can access it as soon as I sit down. Click FILE, select SAVE AS, select where you’d like to save it (desktop for me, where ever you’d like is fine) and give it a name you’ll recognize. Mine is named CURRENT_PROJECT.bat. Just below the bar for the file name is the file type. Click the drop-down arrow and select ALL FILES. Be sure you include the extension .bat at the end of the file name.

save as dialogue box

save as.  Note the .bat extension and the “save as type” All files selection.

And that’s it! Now you have an executable file that will open all the files you need in one shot. By having all the files you need open on their own, you save time, which translates to more time writing and less time getting ready to write.

Is this the best way to speed things up?  Probably not.  Are there other ways?  Absolutely.  This is what works for me, and I thought I’d share.  I hope it helps.

The Headache Diaries

For those of you who’ve been following me on Twitter and Facebook lately, you’ve no doubt seen me whining, pissing, and moaning about a monstrous, three-day headache I had recently. Well, after it came back again after a small break, I broke down and went to the doctor today.

I’ve been having these intense, short headaches on and off for years; they usually go away fairly quickly, with no real ill side effects until the next one decides to turn my brain to tapioca. According to the doctor, they’re called cluster headaches. Makes sense to me; when they hit hard, the whole world becomes one giant cluster f–okay, I’ll watch my language.

After ruling out the usual causes (high blood pressure, sudden diet changes, allergies,  chronic dehydration, etc,) he’s ordered a consult with a neurologist, and sent me off for the first of what I’m sure is going to be many tests, starting with a CT scan this afternoon. Tomorrow is an MRI, and I’m sure they’ll find other ways to poke, prod, and generally annoy me as we go along.

According to the doctor, the likely reason is one of three things:

  • Most likely, brain damage from some of the repeated blows to the head I’ve suffered due to my previous, “colorful” background (his words, not mine) In this case, there’s very little to be done but pain meds when they hit.
  • Next likely is the high blood pressure thing, although my bp has always been normal, even during my heart attacks.
  • Least likely (and most alarming) is an aneurysm; he doesn’t think this is likely, but wants the neuro consult to rule everything out.

So it’s been a pretty sucktastic week and a half or so, as the brain-melting, eye-popping pain tearing through my skull made me miss a lot of time with my kids, the monthly date night we had scheduled, and put me seriously behind on my next novel. I’m maybe 2/3rds done, when I should have been finished last Friday.)

Just thought I’d update those of you who’ve expressed concern over the last few days. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

On “Authors” versus “Writers”, and the notion of “Literary Merit”

Please note: this has nothing to do with anyone’s Twitter, Facebook, blog, or other “handle”; that’s marketing, a creature I still don’t understand.

 

Maybe it’s the small-town, down-home in me, but I have a very hard time referring to myself as an “author;” the word conjures up images of a stuffy old man sitting in a wing-back chair, wearing a red velvet smoking jacket and rambling endlessly about poetic beat and the “literary merit” of other people’s work. In other words, talking a LOT about other people’s writing, but doing damn precious little of their own. 

Well, I don’t own a wing-back chair, I’ve never even wanted to wear a smoking jacket, and I can’t imagine questioning the “literary merit” of someone else’s work. Truth be told, virtually every time I’ve been subjected to these discussions of “literary merit,” it’s been someone criticizing the work of someone who simply writes better than they do.

When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer.

Compare the image of an “author” with what I do, and it’s a startling difference; I sit in an old couch on my front porch with my laptop, drinking unholy amounts of coffee while I bang away at the keyboard and listen to music or cheesy movies as neighborhood kids run up and down the street, yelling and laughing. Instead of a smoking jacket, I’m usually in torn jeans, old sneakers, and a ball cap. Rather than an expensive pipe sitting unused in a crystal ashtray, I have a cheap pipe (in this case, a Carey “Magic Inch” I picked up for a song recently) burning good tobacco. The crystal ashtray is, in fact, an old tin can. Then again, when does reality ever resemble an image?

I don’t begrudge anyone who claims the title of “Author,” chances are they bust their butts on the keyboard just as hard (and probably harder) than I do. I just can’t bring myself to use it, partly because everyone who’s ever bored me silly with talks of “literary merit,” “thematic structure,” and such have unanimously insisted they were “Authors,” with a capital “A”, naturally. I don’t create “works of literary merit,” I tell stories. I don’t give a fig about “literary merit,” I want a good story that entertains and makes the reader think.

Maybe someday I’ll be an author creating literary works; for now, I’m happy to be a writer telling stories. Some of them will make you laugh, cry, or check under the bed before you go to sleep.  Others will piss you off, or simply make you think I’m an idiot who should be kept away from a keyboard for everyone’s good. As long as they get a reaction, I’m okay with it. Boredom, though; that would bring me down.

And after I’m gone, if people are still discussing my work, God forbid the first thing that comes up is “literary worth” or “thematic structure.”

If this occurs, and you’re present for it, ask them what they actually thought of the story, damn it.

Been a while…

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted last, as I know you’re all just waiting breathlessly to hear what’s on my mind. </sarcasm>.

Been a rough and busy week. Doctor’s appointments in Columbia, Ryan’s birthday, and a host of other things all equal exhaustion for me and for Tishia as well.

I read a news article this morning about how high-profile cases like the Casey Anthony trial and the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder can actually overshadow the horrible things that are happening every day. For instance, in 2008, the same year little Caylee Anthony was killed, there were over 1700 children who died of abuse or neglect. This does not include the number of children taken and/or killed by predators outside the home. Similar numbers exist for the year Jon-Benet was murdered.

What do you think? Does the voyeuristic nature of 24 hour news lead us to focus on the glitzy cases and ignore others? Or do these cases simply select themselves to be sensational? Surely no one can argue that the coverage of both the Anthony and Ramsey cases was thorough, exhaustive, and absolutely lurid.

Thoughts?  In the meanwhile, let’s try to remember that these awful things don’t just happen to pretty little girls, as the impression given by the MSM would tell you.