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Category: Opinion

Opinion pieces are meant to articulate thoughts and ideas informed by fact. They are not, however, formal reporting.


I reached the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, making me a “winner”, in that I was able to reach the goal. The story itself is a long way from finished. I estimate that I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft of the story. I consider myself lucky that I haven’t hit any real bumps in the road to building out the novel. It would be tempting to say this is fairly easy, but of course, I’m nowhere near done, and I don’t really know if the story itself is all that good or compelling. I think it is, but I’m obviously biased.

Easing Off, A Little

While I might take my foot off the gas a little (in that I may not do much writing on weekends, and focus on writing during the week only), the story’s not done. I’ve finished one of the main turning points in the plot, and now the story shifts in focus and purpose. I’m hoping that the different layers in the story, which feature theme’s I’m exploring, are coming through.

Tools and Rituals That Help

Part of what has helped in meeting this goal, and now knowing how much time writing will take for me during the day, is how I’ve used used technology, but also some “process” if you will. I’ve been using the focus feature available on the Mac and iDevices to remove the distractions that come from new emails, text messages, and news alerts. I make sure to hide all the other apps I have on my Mac, so I’m not tempted to glance over at Twitter, my texts, and other information sources.

The only thing I have up is Scrivener (the tool I use for writing), a Google search page in case I need to look something up, the NaNoWriMo page with my stats and the running stopwatch (which I start when I’m writing) and the app I’m working on, Writer’s Assistant, which helps me with things like generating made-up character names.

I have a playlist I’ve built that sets the tone for the story (this one features music from Andor, Blade Runner, The Expanse, and The Martian) that I kick off at the start of each writing session. All of the steps I need to take before I start writing are on a little checklist I have in front of me. I don’t want to forget to do something (like start the music or the stopwatch) in my eagerness to get words on the page.

Just Write The Story

Part of this first pass on the novel is concentrating on getting the story down, even though it is rough, there are gaps, and there are times where I’m sure I’ve written way too much, and need to be more succinct. But I’m avoiding any meaningful editing at this point. That’s the next step, to go through the work and start to sort through what I’ve created. It’s then I will focus on fixing any issues with inconsistency, culling parts that aren’t adding to the story, or putting some parts of the story on a diet, say what needs to be said in a more compact way. This is unlike writing software, even though both are creative endeavours. This is a topic I will explore in further pieces down the road.

I’m also going to write up some thoughts on technology and writing, although obviously being a rookie at this type of creative writing, I’m not exactly speaking with any authority. But that has never stopped me before from expressing an opinion.

To those still working away on their own NaNoWriMo projects: keep at it. If this is your first time, like it is mine, you’ll find it satisfying to reach your goal.

New Domain and Mastodon Thoughts

Some may have noticed that vintrock.social is now a thing. I registered it because I’m toying with, maybe, hosting my own Mastodon instance. I figured I should grab it while it’s available, even if I don’t go down that route. For now I’ve pointed it at the main vintrock.com site.

Exploring Options

While I’m still on Twitter (both personally and with Vintrock), I’m exploring options. I’ve put myself on the waitlist for Post (here’s a link that, if you click and register through it, I get extra “points” or something to move up the queue. I won’t be insulted if you don’t bother, just putting it out there), but who knows how long until I get invited to sign up for real.

No, I’m not convinced Twitter is going to disappear anytime soon. Even with all the chaos and anarchy that Elon Musk is creating, Twitter will likely be around for a while. Sure, it may end up like MySpace (which still does exist), but it’s not going to disappear entirely. Okay, maybe it will, but we are a long way from that happening.


I have also joined a Mastodon server (@geoffkratz@mastodon.social), and I’m messing around with it. The concept is intriguing, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to be the “thing” that could challenge Twitter, let alone replace it. Of course, the adherents who have been on Mastodon for a while think otherwise.

The basic premise, and the way you use it, is virtually identical to Twitter. You create posts (they used to called them ‘toots’, a result of the site’s creator not being from North America and being familiar with some, er, cultural nuances). People can read them. Or not. They can be “reblogged” (that used to be called ‘boosted’, but was changed for no apparent reason). There are a few editing tools available that aren’t on Twitter, like being able to hide content that might be sensitive or a spoiler, so people have to click through to see it. Generally, though it’s very similar. You get a reverse-chronological scrolling list of things people have posted.

There are rudimentary search features, as well as ways to find out what’s happening in the rest of the Mastodon world. And it’s here that the troubles begin, and will likely be an impediment to growth and adoption.

The Fediverse

The problem is that there are two Mastodons. There’s Mastodon the technology, and “Mastodon” in the form of the various instances using that technology. People conflate the two regularly. There’s no way to “join Mastodon” per se, because there isn’t just one “Mastodon” out there. There are a bunch of them, and there more appearing regularly. And then there are sites that use Mastodon, but aren’t “Mastodon” in the sense the rest of the communities think.

A Mastodon server, or instance, can connect to other instances and join what is called the “fediverse”. Basically, the servers are “federated”, each running independently with their own community of users and their own policies on content and activities, but still interconnected. Their message traffic can be shared with other instances. This allows someone to follow an account on a different server, and you’ll see their posts, reblogs, etc. This allows groups to set up their own private instances when it comes to access (only people invited to join can use it), but still interact with the wider community.

You can, of course, set up your Mastodon instance as stand-alone, and not join the fediverse. Truth Social is using the Mastodon platform for its service, and it is not part of the fediverse. The founders of Mastodon aren’t happy about it, but because the software is free and open-source, anyone can download and use it. This, of course, has created confusion, since some people think that, since Truth Social uses Mastodon, it is somehow “part of” Mastodon. Truth Social also likely runs on Linux on servers powered by Intel processors. That doesn’t mean that Linux and Intel have anything to do with Truth Social and it’s content or users. So Truth Social uses Mastodon, but it isn’t “Mastodon” in the conventional sense.

It’s this fediverse, and the distributed nature of Mastodon that forms the crux of the problem when it comes to adoption by casual users. Step one in getting on to “Mastodon” (the service)  is “choose a server”. For technically-inclined people, that’s probably not a big deal. But for normal human beings, that introduces a challenge. Which server is “best”, where “best” is different for each individual? Sure, you can move your account to another server if you find the one you’re on isn’t working for you, or isn’t to your liking. But while you keep your followers and who you follow, your posts don’t follow with you. And just from reviewing the instructions, moving isn’t nearly as simple as experienced Mastodon users would have you believe.

One Service Is Simple

Most people like simplicity. They have enough things to do in their day without having to figure out the complexities (minor as they might seem) of trying to decide where to start. You go to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever, sign up, and everyone else is there, or might appear later. It’s really easy to do.

Having to pick a server is the first complication. Then, if you’re trying to track down people on other servers, well good luck with that. You have to know which server they might be on, and there are dozens (with more appearing every day or so). The discovery elements of Mastodon are primitive, and in some cases non-existent. And that is likely to hold it back.

They’re still going to see some growth for a while as Elon thrashes about more-or-less at random. But I expect the growth to slow or stop. Part of it will be people simply abandoning their interest the moment the “pick a server” thing is encountered. You’ve just created friction. Then, as they find that servers they pick are full, or invite-only, or are performance limited, again, they’ll abandon their interest and move on.

Then There’s The Community

The server I’m on is mastodon.social, and it was the first server that was created. What I’ve found, so far, is that the people and groups on it (and many I’m following for now) are showing some trends. There are a lot of posts about how Mastodon is superior because of the fediverse thing (without providing more than half-baked reasons to back the assertion). Some are saying that no server should grow beyond a certain point, again based on ideas that don’t seem completely thought through.

There is a lot of outrage and indignation at, well, almost everything. Rich people are bad. White people are bad. Some new thing is uncovered that is the singlemost worst and awful-evilist thing to have happened. Outrage of the shootings in Colorado I get. People died that should be alive, and they were killed by someone who is evil, period. But the whole “colleges associated with on-line gambling” thing? Yeah, that’s a problem, but the level of outrage I’m seeing over it is beyond the pale.

From time to time, there are also people who decide to shame new users. They bully or berate them for “not doing things the right way here”, or because they did something they way they would on Twitter. Hmm, I wonder why that would be? I’ve seen reports of accounts being suspended or deleted because a single post violated some rule on content that apparently wasn’t described very well (or, in one case, that the site owner simply “didn’t like it” with no explanation on how to remedy the transgression). Since each server has its own rules, and those rules aren’t necessarily stable, it makes for a bad experience. And single bad experience is all it takes to lose that person as a potential customer forever.

Questions about Stability and Performance

Some servers have adequate performance. Some are buried almost instantly because they’ve undersized the resources for the server. And any instance will cost money, even if you’re running it out of your home or office (Internet access isn’t free, kids). So how do you pay for this?

Most servers either offer a way for you to donate to them directly, or via a platform like Patreon. To add to this whole “fediverse” confusion is the presence of the original Mastodon Patreon account. You can give money to it, but that money only goes to the original core sites and the main developers of the technology. It isn’t spread across the other instances. This means you have to track down the Patreon (or whichever) for your server. With Twitter having been free to use, I expect very few of the new people will donate to the instances they’ve joined.

But the platforms are, for now, anti-advertising. Some are proud, almost obnoxiously so as they brag about it on a near-regular basis, of the fact they aren’t doing this for profit, that they aren’t “greedy”. Fine, if you can make a go of it, more power to you. But I’m expecting that there will quickly be limits on what people will pay, and how many will bother. Twitter’s problems don’t stem from their need to grow and be profitable. They stem from larger problems, that have nothing to do with the money.

Other Services Are Coming (Maybe)

Apparently Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, is creating something called “bluesky” that is being described as a “social protocol”, but supposedly isn’t meant to be a Twitter competitor (so it may sound like Mastodon, perhaps). Tumblr is apparently looking for developers, and is appealing to the now ex-Twitter folks to contact them. They may be trying to create their own form of social network beyond the blogging platform they have now. I’m sure others will start to emerge from the woodwork as well.

Twitter is Unique

What Twitter does, and how it works, is unique. It isn’t perfect, not by a long-shot, and it has been something of a dumpster fire for over a decade now, depending on what parts of Twitter you interact with. I’ve managed to avoid that myself, through the use of Tweetdeck instead of the normal web interface or official apps. I don’t see ads, and I only see posts from who I follow, and things they re-tweet. And that’s it.

It’s questionable whether you can effectively replicate Twitter without encountering the same junk that Twitter now features. And perhaps you wouldn’t want to. What a new Twitter-like system might look like, I don’t know. I haven’t thought that much about it. I’m not convinced Mastodon is it. We’ll see what Post is like, if I ever get invited to join. I don’t depend much on Twitter, but I do use it, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

NaNoWriMo 2022: One Week In

My first week participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2022 ended yesterday, and so far, so good. I’m well on my way to my 50,000 word goal, clocking in nearly 20,000 words as of this morning. I feel good about the story itself. This is only my second attempt at writing a novel, and if it goes well, will hopefully be the first one I publish. The first one I wrote a few years ago comes with some intellectual property baggage, so it can wait.

Of course, I still have about 3 weeks to go, so who knows if I can maintain this pace. So far, I’m able to exceed my personal target of 2,000 words every day. It takes me about an hour to write that (that probably sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not trying to, honestly). Of course, those are 2,000 “first draft” words, and there is a lot of work to be done after the first draft of the novel is complete. I’m pretty sure I can expect at least 2 months of editing and revision on my own for every month I take to write the first draft, but that’s a guess on my part. I have no idea how long it will take when I work with an independent editor.

My Secret(?) to Productivity

I believe there are a few reasons why I’m able to get that much done on the first go-round. The first is that I can type quickly, and more importantly, I can touch type. Back in high school, in grade 10, I took a typing course (in Alberta at the time, it was Typing 10. I believe it’s called Keyboarding now). For the first 3 months, we learned on manual typewriters. We were able to get some time on the electric typewriters (IBM Selectrics) for the last few weeks. The goal was to build up both speed and accuracy. The result is that I can type about as fast as I can form the thoughts I want to get down on the screen. It means I’m not having to wait for my fingers to catch up.

The second reason is the way I go about creative writing, which is similar to how I approach writing software. Before I begin to write, I have planned out in my mind the next part of the story. I will go over it in my head a few times, playing with ideas and concepts, and getting the basic plot points and dialog figured out, even if only roughly, in advance. The writing part is now about capturing that thinking, and refining it as well as filling in any details.

Unlike with software, where the goal is to get it right the first time, with the creative writing, I’m not trying to obsess about getting the story perfect on the first go. I want to capture the story as I see it now, knowing it will change when I go back and review and revise what I’ve done. Then I’ll revise some sections, drop some, add new ones, and completely re-write others. I’ll have a few versions of the novel done before I’m ready to send it to an editor. That’s the step my previous novel didn’t take, at least not yet.

Independent Feedback Required

This one will go to an independent editor, someone who will look at it with a critical eye. I will also rely on some of my friends and family (I did use some for my first as-yet unpublished novel). These are people I know will give me honest, and if required brutal, feedback and comments. They won’t say “oh wow, it’s great” if it actually isn’t. Then I go back and apply any fixes when it comes to typos, grammar problems, and just plain weird phrasing. I also incorporate the feedback and opinions where I think it makes sense (and maybe ignore some, because they would alter the story in ways I don’t want it to go, but only after some discussion on those points).

The goal for this work is to eventually get it published. What road I take for that is still to be determined. I might self-publish, I might try the traditional route. If nothing else, self-publishing is the fallback position. There’s no harm in trying to take the more traditional path first.

However, to publish I first need to finish. And that’s the focus for now.

NaNoWriMo Started Today

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) started today, and I’m participating. The goal of the event is to write at least 50,000 words of a first-draft novel in 30 days. You “win” by hitting the 50,000 word total. It’s basically an attempt to spur some people who think they want to be writers to commit to something. The entire event is meant to be upbeat and positive, and the NaNoWriMo organization has many different tools available for current and aspiring writers to join communities, and find support. There are local chapters (there’s one for Calgary) that hold virtual and in-person events.

I’m participating for the first time this year. My project is a science fiction novel titled Ashes of Outpost. It’s set on an old commercial, transportation, and mining facility on an asteroid in the Bohen system in my fictional Unimanse universe that I’m continually evolving. So far, I’m off to a good start, with over 3,700 words (and counting) on day one. Part of what makes writing easier for me, personally, is that I can type quickly and reasonably accurately. It means that my fingers can keep up with my thoughts and imagination as I craft the story, and I’m not fighting with the mechanical work of getting words down on the electronic page. But I’m not so foolish to think I can keep that pace up forever, and I’m going to hit snags and roadblocks. But so far, it’s encouraging.

We’ll see how this goes, but it does look promising. Once it’s done, I’ll have a better sense of whether I would recommend the event to current and aspiring writers (and I still fall very much in the “aspiring” category right now). I like the idea, though, and that’s a start.

The Rings of Power Could Use a Boost

(Spoilers ahead) Season one of the The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power from Amazon Prime has finished. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could use some improvement. I’m looking forward to season two, and hope they are able to address some of the shortcomings I see in their storytelling.

Spoiler Alert: The following contains descriptions that are likely to spoil key plot points for people who have not yet watched the series. Read at your own risk.

The Challenge

There are complaints that the series isn’t hewing close enough to the original storylines, derived from a combination of The Silmarillion and various notes Tolkien made over the years. I get the complaints, but as the showrunners pointed out, the various stories in the original written work take place over thousands of years. While the elven characters would be continuous, the humans, dwarves, and other characters would be replaced virtually every episode. Either that, or the story would drag out so long that only die-hard Tolkien fans would likely pay attention. And unfortunately, we aren’t a big enough group to sustain a TV show whose estimated costs run close to $1 billion dollars.

As a result, the story has to be compressed. That means finding a balance between telling the stories that make up the foundation for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but keeping them in a timeframe that a large enough audience will want to pay attention. It’s a challenge to be sure.

Overall, Not Bad

Overall, I think the season was reasonably good. The sets, the visual effects, and the costumes are very impressive. They have captured the same sort of essence that we see in the Peter Jackson movies, which is a good thing. It is different enough so we know this isn’t the Third Age from the core books. But it is similar enough that we can trace the lineage and not wonder “well, where did that come from, and then where did it go?” (I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery).

The performers are quite good in their roles, and that we (again) get a host of largely unknown actors means we see the characters, not the actors. The only suggestion I would have is for Morfydd Clark is if she could please unclench her teeth when she speaks. Enunciation is very much appreciated by the audience.

Lameness Isn’t Pleasant

The first glaring bit of lameness is the opening credits. Frankly, the dancing sand is horribly lame. After a couple of episodes, I now skip that part entirely. Yes, we get the right music with the right tone to impart the sense of gravity and importance of the events we will see. But the dancing sand takes away from all of that, ruining the mood. It’s as if that sand is trying terribly, terribly hard to look serious and important, and falls short in that regard.

Okay, so we can skip that part each episode. But then the season finale ends with an even more lame, verging on horrible, “song” where they attempt to set the explanatory poem about the rings (“three rings for the elven kings under the sky…”) to music. It doesn’t work. It’s bad. What makes it worse is it sounds like a feeble attempt to mimic a Shirley Bassey version of a James Bond theme. And it fails on every front. The bit of verse Tolkien wrote is structured in an odd way. It works when just read or is spoken aloud. It does not lend itself to be lyrics for a song. Fortunately, in the future I can stop the last episode before that travesty of a tune assaults my ears.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

The episodes themselves are very unevenly paced. There are many sections where the dialog just isn’t that interesting, isn’t telling us anything new, at times is beating us about the head on something we’ve already figured out, and seems to be long for the sake of being long. I’ve found myself a few times asking “could we just please get on with it”. Yeah, I get that Nori is taking a big step in going with the Istari that will be known as Gandalf (the “follow your nose” line was an amusing way to make that clear). It’s a parallel to both Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit, and the one the four hobbits take in The Lord of the Rings. But Nori doesn’t need to spend what seems like an eternity explaining how hard it is for her emotionally to go.

The fact that the penultimate episode felt like the season finale, but nope, there’s one more to go, says something. Here we have things wrapped up in a bit of a bow, with a bunch of open story lines to be continued next season. The Southlands become Mordor, the Numenorians return home to regroup, and Galadriel is going to take Halbrand to get some healing. A potential new hero, in the young man Tyroe Muhafidin, is ready for his own story arc. We know that the mystery man from the sky has more to unveil, and the Harfoots (Harfeet?) are settled for a bit.

Apparently they felt the need for a “just one more thing” moment, as if they didn’t trust that we would be back for another season. The first three rings, for the elves, are made. Halbrand is revealed to be Sauron. The stranger from the sky is revealed to be Gandalf (after briefly and poorly flirting with him actually being Sauron). And a hobbit predecessor is “going on an adventure”. Really? This could have waited until season two? It’s not like there isn’t a lot more to come, because we know there is. There are still 17 more rings to be made and handed out. Gandalf needs to develop his powers, and there are four more wizards (Saruman, Radagast, the two unnamed blue wizards) still to arrive (or be found). The Greenwood needs to transform to Mirkwood. The harfoot need to evolve to become hobbits. That’s a lot to cover.

The last episode felt more like a filler, a need to make sure they had an even eight episodes. It contains nothing that couldn’t have waited to season two. But since they had a requirement to make eight episodes (and filling them was apparently already a challenge, given the pacing), we get eight. Plus so much is wrapped up in a bow in the episode that if they cancelled the series, we wouldn’t be left hanging all that much. It was almost as if they were afraid to leave things too open-ended.

Definitely More To Come

There is a lot more to come in the story. The question will be how many seasons have they planned, and how far do they take the story. Will it go as far as the war where Sauron is defeated (leading into Third Age)? Will it only go as far as the forging and distribution of the remaining rings? There is so much that can be covered. What happens to the dwarves after they get their rings, and how are they lost? What about the nine rings given to the nine human kings? We’ve seen nothing of those kingdoms at all at this point. The founding of Osgiliath, Minas Anor (which will become Minas Tirith). and Minas Ithil (which became Minas Morgul). The appearance of the Rohirrim. The construction of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard. There is so much yet to be covered.

Part of the question is how much will be included in the next seasons of The Rings of Power. There is a lot, and even leaving out big chunks will make for a substantial story. Hopefully they can improve on some of the issues the first season has, and continue to tell a compelling story.

The Beautiful Consistency of Corner Gas

Corner Gas is, to me, an amazing show. It is simple, fun, completely unpretentious, and thoroughly Canadian. I also think it sets a high standard when it comes to creating an episodic television series.

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Finally, Actual Star Trek (Spoilers)

[Spoiler Alert!] I have been a Trekkie since I was a child, having watched the Original Series shortly after it entered syndication in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. It was a Saturday evening tradition at my grandparent’s house (along with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and Land of the Giants). But I haven’t always liked everything made in the franchise, and lately it has been less than enjoyable for me. But I have renewed faith with Strange New Worlds.

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The Problem with Machete Order (Spoilers)

(Warning, Spoilers ahead). There is a recommendation about the order to watch the Star Wars movies in, called Machete Order. It comes from a blog post on Absolutely No Machete Juggling, and it arose because of a dissatisfaction with the prequel Star Wars episodes. It attempts to tell a better story, but after viewing it a couple times, it has some problems.

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