Saturday, October 31, 2009

How I write a novel

I'm starting to get my hands around the process that I use to write a novel.  I do it in stages.

First I have an idea.  Whenever I have an idea I try to type up the nucleus of the idea so I can think about it later--usually a paragraph or three.  I have about 3 dozen ideas that I liked enough to write down.

An idea may be very sketchy.  One of my favorite ideas is really short right now:
"A protest is going on outside a courthouse.  Inside a research scientist is being tried on bio-terrorism charges for creating and releasing a virus that alters people's brains to make them immune to the effects of narcotics.  Crowds calling him a hero argue with crowds calling him the devil.  A high-school student with a camera interviews people on both sides, including finding family members on both sides.  The doctor is found not guilty.  He comes out and is assassinated by angry drug lords."

Second I try to think of a title.  I've read that other authors will not even bothering writing down an idea if they do not immediately have a title.  I'm not good at titles, so I assume that the title will change over time.  But I'm not going to start actually working on an idea until I have some sort of title that I feel good about.

For the novel I am working on right now the original title was:
"The Problem with Miracle Cures"
That was shortened to just:
"The Problem with Miracles"
And then changed to:
"The Trouble with Miracles"
And there is a good chance that it will change again.  But I liked "The Problem with Miracle Cures" enough to get started on the novel based upon that.

Characters & Plot
Third I take the idea and flesh it out with a few names for the main characters and some general outlines of the action of the story.  The main characters each get a paragraph or two describing who they are and what motivates them.

The plot will just be a sequence of sentence fragments like, "Find the diamond.  Get shot.  Wake up in hospital."  This list of sentence fragments may go on for two or three pages.  At this point I could probably sit down and tell you the gist of the story and why I think this character would do that, etc.

Scene Descriptions
Fourth, I go back through my plot points and organize the fragments into scenes.  For instance, "Find the diamond." and "Get shot." might happen in the same scene.

Then I go back through my scenes and flesh out a good paragraph or two description of exactly what happens, where is it, who is involved, etc.  If there are important plot points I add those in where I think of them like, "Barbara refuses to explain why she shot Paul."

I do this from start to finish, in natural order.

I think that a novel should have between 80 and 120 scenes.

Someone could read this and understand the story reasonably well.

Timeline, Themes, & Cycles
Fifth, I draw up a timeline of the story.  I may not put specific dates in the book, but I want to have specific dates in mind.  I need to plot out the seasons and make sure the seasons change appropriately in the scenes.  I want to map out the holidays and other telltales that I can use to give a sense of the time that has passed between scenes.

A book should have a central theme, and it should have supporting themes.  The central theme should be consistent throughout.  The supporting themes should change.  The supporting themes should follow natural progressions, like the stages of grieving or the stages of growth.  This is the time when I write out the themes and plot those changes on the timeline.

Some things should happen in cycles.  The cycles shouldn't be simple and obvious, but they should be there providing a framework of understanding the book and interpreting the themes.  Like in a war book there might be a theme of 'escalation only kills more civilians'; and so the book should have clearly visible cycles of escalation and each one should kill more civilians.

I also like cycles that give the writing itself some structure, similar to a formal poetic structure.  This can help give the reader the sense of the familiar without (hopefully) being redundant.  So I might lay out each chapter with 9 scenes:

  • Long scene with good news.
  • Short scene with a mystery.
  • Short scene with bad news.
  • Medium scene with good news.
  • Long scene with a mystery.
  • Medium scene with bad news.
  • Short scene with a big surprise that changes everything.

The good news, bad news, and mystery should be different each time.  Some mysteries will be stronger than others.  Some good news will be better than other good news.  Etc.  But, if that is the pattern that I pick then that pattern should hold for each chapter.  The biggest value of this is that it helps me keep the book balanced, so it doesn't get too sad in some places or too happy in others.  It also helps provide a basis for foreshadowing.  And when I want to throw in real surprises I can vary from that structure to make the surprise feel out of place.

Action and Dialog
Sixth, I step through each scene and write out the activity and dialog.
Patrolman Jennings stopped walking, turned his head, and listened for another scratch.  He closed his eyes.  He whispered, "Melissa.  Melissa, can you hear me?"
I did this in normal order (beginning to end) in Walta Sepatet.  I ran into plot holes that are going to take a long time to fix.  That's part of why I stopped working on that book, I think.  I hit places where I needed to establish something in an earlier scene, and didn't.  Now I have a list of things that I have to go back and work into existing scenes.

On Trouble with Miracles I am working this backwards.  I started with the last scene and it is pretty easy to make changes to the earlier scenes as I go, in order to make sure that I have everything properly established.  I'll tell you how that works when I'm done.

I just use the same document where I had the scene descriptions.  I write the action and dialog right beneath where I have the scene descriptions.  When I'm done with a scene I delete the description of that scene.

Character and Setting Descriptions
Seventh, I step through the whole book and add in color and texture details.  What color was her dress?  How much light was there?  Etc.  Sometimes I will restructure sentences while I am here, if I need to in order to get the setting information into the scenes.

Eighth, I read the whole story, looking for mistakes.  Did we find out who the mysterious stranger is too early?  Did I use any adverbs?  Are my seasons and time lapses appropriate and noted?

I hate it when authors tell us what characters are thinking.  That's a cop-out.  That's not the way we go through life.  We see people's faces and hear the lilts in their voices, and we figure out what they mean.  So one of the things I read for is whether or not the description of the person (and their actions) is sufficient to work out what they are probably thinking.  It seems that because I don't spell out what people are thinking, but I know what they are thinking, I often don't get enough description down for others to figure out what a character is thinking.

Others Proofread
Ninth, I print out a few copies and ask others to read it.  I print with wide margins and room between chapters for them to make notes.  I ask them to use a highlighter and pen and tell me where things are unclear.  One of the big questions I ask them to look for is whether or not they think a particular character would do what he/she did.  When they say 'no' it probably means that I didn't get enough of that character's background down out of my head and into the text.

Final Editing
Tenth, with the feedback from others I will make a final pass through the book and fill in the missing details.  I might change the order of scenes or the setting for scenes.  It all depends on the feedback I get.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Safe computing

I'm a computer person.  I build my own computers from scratch.  I run new operating systems for fun.  I'm often called on to fix someone else's computer or help with a computer problem.  In this article I'm going to get down my most important advice.  All of this is aimed at people running Windows.

Status Update

Last updated 4/4/11 @ 5:00pm.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Money = Power

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." -Sir Winston Churchill
In my opinion the biggest problem with Democracy is that money equals power.  Democracy has never adequately coped with that problem.

The rich have a tremendous advantage over the poor, They have the time and money to influence the workings of government.  I could spend a great deal of time documenting all of the influence buying, but I really dislike the name-calling and partisan politics that it leads to.  So I'll prove my point in a different manner.

Rich people, and the companies they run, give millions of dollars to political campaigns and political interest groups.  Why?

Maybe they genuinely believe in the person or party.  But if that were true then why would they donate to both parties and to both candidates in most fights?  And why would elected officials receive campaign contributions during off years from people and companies directly affected by the rules and policies that they are debating?

The only explanation for these dynamics is that the rich are buying power.
"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." -Warren Buffet
So Democracy 2.0 is all about re-balancing the scales to remove the power of money from the operation of government.

We could work towards stronger campaign finance rules and ethics rules.  But as long as the foxes run the henhouse we will only make temporary progress.  We could spend tons of money and pass several strong laws to clean up government.  But the foxes would simply wait until the public attention turned to something else and then they would start adding exemptions, exceptions, and loopholes.  And shortly we would actually be worse off because we would think that we had done something, and we would have a harder time seeing the operation of the money behind the scenes.

Instead of spinning my wheels trying to fix the existing structure, I want to start over with a fresh sheet of paper and design a new structure of Democratic government where money is effectively locked out of the decision-making process.  In other words, I want to build a henhouse that the foxes can't get into, let alone run.

I have some ideas what that might look like.  I would break decisions down small pieces and spread the decision-making power around in very small pieces--fine grain separation of powers.  I would limit the power of the decision makers and force public votes for decisions that granted increased government power, like raising the debt ceiling.  Every rule change affecting the way that these people operate would require a public vote--they literally could not create exceptions for themselves.

I would take away government's power to keep secrets from the people.  I would publish every comment from every debate, and actively engage public input and debate.

No more elections.  No more presidents or governors.  I would draft qualified people from all over the country for 2-3 year terms, and pay them well.  They would get high quality security, and 24x7 monitoring to make sure that they were not cutting any side deals.

I don't think I can do it all by myself.  And I doubt that we can get it all right on our first try.  So what I am currently envisioning is a political party that is dedicated to building Democracy 2.0 structures at any and all levels of government.  Each city and state should experiment with the structures that seem best to them, and they should adapt and change as they find the mistakes they have made.  The party should have to achieve some local success around the country, and adapt and change the rules several times, before we are ever trusted with a larger government.  But over time we should replace every type and size government with the new structures that we design.

I don't want any power for myself.  I don't want to be elected to anything.  I want to help lead the debates and discussions for designing the experimental governments.  I don't want to serve in the experimental governments.  I want to watch and learn from the outside and help tweak and improve them.  I want to help define the results that these governments will be measured by.

My problem right now is that this will require money to accomplish.  And I don't trust money, because money = power.  That's where I am stuck right now.  I would welcome any advice or ideas....

Comparison of job search and related sites

The internet changes quickly.  I compiled this list the week of October 26, 2009.  It will be old by Christmas.  If you have suggestions please post them in the comments.  Please feel free to point others here, but don't just steal my work.

Many of these I got from the best list I could find:,2817,2342781,00.asp  The PC Magazine article focused on the "top 20" search sites.  I'm casting the net much wider and including work alternative sites and other related sites that are of interest to job seekers.

I'm categorizing my list because some of these are not so much search sites as helper sites.  I'll try to make it useful for job seekers.  You might also want to look at my article on the job search process:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Psalm 73

I went to a Bible study this morning.  We read Psalm 73.  It starts out pretty depressing.  The writer is lamenting that the wicked have good lives while good people suffer.  It made me think of Jesus' statement that "the poor you will always have with you." ( Matt 26:11)  Since Jesus said it, I guess all of our efforts to eradicate poverty are destined to failure.  We can do some good, but we will never solve the problem; because Jesus explicitly said that we will never solve that problem.

That won't stop me from working to eradicate poverty.  But it does dampen my enthusiasm.

In this Psalm the author says that the wicked have comfortable lives of luxury.  I wonder if they wouldn't have comfortable lives of luxury if the Psalmist hadn't written that.  Or, because maybe the Psalmist is less authoritative than Jesus, if we have any chance of ever fixing our society enough to correct that injustice?  Or are we doomed to failure here, too?

Clearly the main point of the Psalm is that this life is just a qualification round, and the wicked are disqualifying themselves from eternity.  Godly people should take some comfort from that, and from the fact that we have God's presence and assistance in this life as well.

But it is hard to not want the luxury, too.

Go read this article, now

It's Rolling Stone, so there is some profanity and name-calling.  But it's one of the better descriptions of the gross misconduct on Wall Street that I have found.

Money equals Power.  That is the major goal of Democracy 2.0: break that equation and remove the power from the money.  I want to start in government, by building government processes that are incorruptible.  Then we can regulate Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.  But we'll never gain control of Wall Street or the war pigs if we don't get the money out of government.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Personal career inventory

The Austin Job Seeker's Network is running a series of classes on figuring out who you are and what you will find joy doing as a vocation. I've recently gone through much of this on my own, but decided to take the free class to see what I might have missed.

The first day they gave us a lot of homework. I'm not going to walk you through the steps of the homework. I'm only going to document my results here. They identified 5 high-level categories for self-assessment.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If you've seen it you'll have to agree

If you don't read XKCD than you should.  Consistently funny.  Sometimes I laugh so hard I hurt myself.  This morning I had a raisin go up my nose because I was laughing so hard:

Oh, and when you read the comic on the XKCD site make sure to mouse-over for a second punch line. Funny stuff.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marketing a self-published book

I found this article I liked and didn't want to lose it.

The positive aspects of incompetence

I blogged last night about Washington's stupid policy decision to institute pay cuts for the top paid 25 executives at seven of the companies that received government money.  If you're unsure that this is a horribly bad idea then go read that post first....

Washington didn't think this policy through.  I pointed out that they clearly don't understand the actual consequences of this policy, if it is enacted.  The other thing that they didn't think through is how easy it would be for these companies to get around the policy.  I went to sleep thinking about that last night, and I found so many options for subverting this policy that it's now clear to me that it won't have any real effect at all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Web 3.0 sucks

Wired has the story.  If you care about the internet at all, you need to read and digest this.

This isn't web 2.0, so I'll call it web 3.0.  And I don't like it at all.  Cheap crappy content is not what I came here for.  How do we get past this quickly, and on to web 4.0?

Can I get a Firefox filter to mark these results and keep me away from them, like Web of Trust?

The law of unintended consequences, Washington edition

It has just been announced that Washington is clamping down on executive pay for seven of the companies that received the most government money.

Here's one of the articles.

And here's the money quote:
"Under the plan, which will be announced in the next few days by the Treasury Department, the seven companies that received the most assistance will have to cut the annual salaries of their 25 best-paid executives by an average of about 90 percent from last year."

TV on PC

As part of the budget cuts following the job loss we turned off cable TV.  Time Warner used to say that you could not get RoadRunner without also subscribing to a minimum cable TV plan.  Not any more.

Because of the digital conversion, the old antannea I still had doesn't pick up any channels.  We'll have to buy a converter box in order to pick up anything.  Those are $50 to $60, and I'm hoping to avoid that expense on a temporary solution.

So I'm making a list of where we can watch the shows we care about online, to help us survive this transition period.

Interesting publishing idea

Jeremy sent me the link for this.  A guy named Robin is writing a book, and having people pre-order copies to pay for the writing and publishing costs.  I might have to steal this idea.

If you are interested in internet detective stories you might consider sponsoring him.

VW viral marketing campaign

VW deserves a little credit for this one. They are running a competition to get people to come up with fun ways to get people to do what they should do, like pick up trash and take the stairs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The second fall

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  It's successor, Russia, is in grave danger of collapsing soon.  The Russian government was on the ropes, but got a reprieve from the high oil prices of 2007 & 2008.  Now they are hurting again.  Do they deserve to be saved, or are we actually fighting Cold War II right now?

Good list of job hunting sites

This looks to be a fairly comprehensive list of sites where one can search for jobs, with short descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each.,2817,2342781,00.asp

I originally found this information here:
I thought it was original there, and linked to it. Turns out that it was basically stolen from the PC Magazine article (they even picked up one typo.) So I unlinked that and linked the PC Magazine article instead. The internet is supposed to be links. Give credit where it is due. Don't steal other people's hard work.

I was thinking of researching this myself when I ran across this list and checked that off of my to-do list. Now I have researched this myself, and I will be posting a broader list shortly. And I will link the PC Magazine article and give them credit for their work.

September 11, 1906

Ghandi led a non-violent civil revolt in South Africa against the Transvaal government's new Indian registration act.  Speaking to a large group of Indians who were working in South Africa at the time, he urged them to join him in disobeying the law and suffering the consequences non-violently instead of obeying and granting legitimacy to the immoral law. It was the first time Ghandi spoke publicly about non-violent resistance to immoral laws.

I wonder if bin Laden was familiar with that bit of history when he chose that day for violent intimidation.

How would this world be different today if bin Laden was familiar with the works of Ghandi?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kasparov on Obama's gambit opening

Garry Karparov is the greatest chess player since Bobby Fisher (who is the greatest of all time.)  Since losing to that computer, Kasparov has turned his attention to politics.  He has a sharp mind.  His grasp of tactics and strategy is way beyond the reach of most mortals.  Most of what I have read of his politics is just plain hard to follow, but not this piece.

President Obama, when he calls you out for having stupidly short-sighted foreign policies, you should take heed.

I don't agree with much of what Kasparov's political party stands for.  But he is not a liar or a fool.  And his analysis of current US-Russian relations is absolutely correct.

There is a way to lead the world to disarmament.  Playing the patsy is not the way.  Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea are all playing us for patsies right now.

Welcome to the jungle

It's not often that I hear a Senator saying something I agree with.  But here's Sen. Judd Gregg on the debt.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brilliant new computer interface design

Watch the video:

I don't know if this will really work, but the brainstorming and work that went into it are clearly high quality.  I'm not sure I would bet against this.

The one thing I would add is to build the keyboard into the touch sensor.  You would need some sort of toggle to switch from navigation pad to keyboard.  And the pad would require some sort of minimal illumination that could show you the outline of the keys, for those of us who still look down at the keyboard sometimes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Office

I've never seen the show, but after reading this article I am tempted.  It's tough reading, especially if you are not familiar with the characters.

I don't know if the writers of the show are truly aware of the principles that the article outlines, but they don't have to be aware of the principles to have a sense of the patterns and replicate them for fiction.

The truly short version is that each person begins their career in the naive belief that they can work hard and get ahead.  The world of work disabuses you of that notion pretty quickly.  Then you can choose one of three paths (article identifies 3, I see 4):
  • You can check out and merely give minimum effort at work, and then find life satisfaction elsewhere; becoming a "loser" at work.
  • You can try harder to overachieve and hope to miraculously overcome the unfairness of the system; becoming a "clueless" but needed pawn at work.
  • If you fail to understand the situation you also become clueless, but more so you become expendable chattel.
  • You can work on your career instead of your job, scheming and boot-licking your way up the ladder; becoming a "sociopath" who uses other people to get ahead.

The author of the article doesn't explicitly draw the distinction between the clueless and the chattel, but you can see the distinction in the way he discusses the clueless characters.

If I applied this type of analysis at Journyx you might say that I was clueless and forced out when I was sacrificed to save a sociopath's skin.  The pattern seems to fit, but I'm not sure if I am happy with the labels when applied to real life.

This management theory is worthy of serious discussion.  To achieve that these labels will have to change.  And as interesting as I find it, this is clearly Mr. Rao's topic to write.  I'll leave it to him.

What do you think?

Call of God's leader

I just got back from Austin Christian Executive's Bible Study.  Another good lesson and great discussion.  Mike Field lead the study.  We looked at the early life of Moses in Exodus 2-4.

I'm an INTJ.  When I look at how Moses operated I think maybe he was an INTJ also:

  • He starts out quiet and reserved.
  • He has a big vision, but he doesn't tell anyone (freeing the Israelites)
  • He acts out as if he has a plan, but doesn't explain it to anyone. (killing the Egyptian)
  • When he is confronted and hits adversity for the first time he runs away.
  • He avoids confrontation--would rather tend his father-in-law's sheep for 40 years than confront the unjust system that he really would like to tear down.
  • He doesn't react with fear when he meets the burning bush--it's just a new thing he will examine and learn from.
  • He has all of the reasons and arguments thought out when God tells him to go to Egypt.
  • He has a pessimistic outlook.

It feels good to think that God can even use INTJs.

I wonder if Moses gave up on his plan for freeing the Israelites before God called him?  Is that part of the reason why God waited 40 years?

It seems that God's model leaders are all shepherds.  There is a pattern there worthy of additional study.

Moses tells God that he is slow of speech, and therefore cannot be God's spokesman.  God tells him that Aaron will help him speak, and so it seems there is some truth to that claim.  But in Acts (7:22) Stephen says that Moses was powerful of body and speech.  I'm missing something there.  If anyone knows the answer to that conundrum please let me know.

God says His name is "I AM WHO I AM", or "I AM THAT WHICH I AM".  Mike said that he found this translation that seems like a more accurate English translation of what the Hebrew words really mean:
"I shall continually be that which I always have been"
Mike gave the author's name, but I didn't get it written down.  I tried googling the quote and couldn't find it.  If you know the author please let me know.

One of the guys in the discussion made a point about spiritual growth:
"When you reach a mountain top it is hard to understand that you cannot climb the next mountain top unless you cross the valley in between."

Waiting on the World to Change

I just heard this song on the radio.  I don't know who John Mayer is.  It reminded me a little of a slow rendition of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On'.  But several of these lyrics really jumped out at me as being much more honest and insightful than average pop song lyrics.

Waiting On The World To Change

me and all my friends
we're all misunderstood
they say we stand for nothing and
there's no way we ever could
now we see everything that's going wrong
with the world and those who lead it
we just feel like we don't have the means
to rise above and beat it

so we keep waiting
waiting on the world to change
we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change

it's hard to beat the system
when we're standing at a distance
so we keep waiting
waiting on the world to change
now if we had the power
to bring our neighbors home from war
they would have never missed a Christmas
no more ribbons on their door
and when you trust your television
what you get is what you got
cause when they own the information, oh
they can bend it all they want

that's why we're waiting
waiting on the world to change
we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change

it's not that we don't care,
we just know that the fight ain't fair
so we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change

and we're still waiting
waiting on the world to change
we keep on waiting waiting on the world to change
one day our generation
is gonna rule the population
so we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change

we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Global warming and the Bible

I've been asked about my theology of creation.  In my global warming articles I have quoted the scientific data as if it is undeniably true.  If I believe that the ice core sample data is valid, dating back hundreds of thousands of years, then that means I must be an old earth creationist.  Or maybe I'm not a creationist at all.

So let me clarify my position here:

  • God created the heavens and the earth.
  • I understand the young earth and old earth creationist arguments, and I think that it is a significantly less important issue than the core truth that He created it.  If you put a gun to my head and forced a decision, I would say that I think the earth is probably as old as archeologists think it is.  My God is big enough for that.
  • Scientists believe in the geological data.  They do not believe in what the Bible says about the beginnings of the earth.
  • If I am going to credibly discuss the problems with the theory of global warming with the scientists who believe in the theory, then I have to debate the data that they believe.
  • These scientists have cherry-picked their data and performed a number of other unscientific mistakes.  They are behaving more like a cult than truly open-minded scientists.  And they are making more money off of this alarmist hype then they ever could from clear-headed fair science.
  • I can see many holes in their data and logic, and if given a chance I think myself and other clear-headed folks could temper the alarms and move public opinion towards more fair policies.
  • I believe that humans are causing some global warming.
  • I believe that the planet has natural systems in place that both cause and counter-act both warming and cooling.
  • I haven't seen anything to lead me to believe that man-made global warming will overcome and the earth's natural heating and cooling systems to cause unmitigated catastrophe.
  • The ice core data does indicate that we have an 8-degree cooling event coming soon--over a period of about 3,000 years the planet will cool 8-degrees and stay near that new normal for most of the next 100,000 years.
  • If you believe in a young earth you should also believe that God carefully placed the ice core data there and gave humans the reasoning facilities to read it; and so He is warning us about the natural patterns of warming and cooling that He built into this planet.
  • Because of the behavior of the cult of global warming, we are actually ignoring the real threat to modern civilization--that coming 8-degree cooling.
  • I could definitely be wrong about any of the above scientific opinions.  But the cult of global warming is squashing the open and honest discussions of the data, and so I can't get my skeptical questions answered.  The only choice they will give me is to turn off my brain and drink their cool-aid.  I cannot do that.
  • My whole purpose in talking about this topic is to try to return the discussion to open, civil, scientific discourse.

Moral outrage at the financial sector's risky behavior

Barry Ritholtz is one of the bravest and clearest commentators on Wall Street behavior today.  This post of Goldman Sachs' bonuses is especially good.

Everyone is upset about the bonuses.  No one bothers to understand or remember the genuine structural problems that actually caused the problem.  The bonuses did not contribute to the problem, but it's the only thing that the main stream media can pay attention to.

If I were a truly skeptical person (hint: I am) I might suggest that the monied Wall Street masters have cut some sort of deal with the main stream media to keep the public's attention off of the scandalously unethical and dangerous behavior that actually caused this crash.  If that risky behavior was a large part of the reason for their spectacular profits leading up to the crash, and if the Wall Street masters understand that, then they should be trying every trick in their bag to protect their profits.

I've got the moral outrage.  I'm outraged at the dangerous unethical behavior that Wall Street masters have conspired to engage in.  And I'm outraged at the main stream media that actively ignores the real story.

I've seen that members of the tin-foil hat crowd have accused Henry Paulson and his cronies of deliberately causing this disaster so they could increase Wall Street's power over Washington.  Whether or not that was deliberate (I don't know, personally), that has been one of the biggest effects of this crisis.  Others have accused Washington power brokers like Barney Frank and Phil Gramm of helping to orchestrate the collapse so that Washington could use the clean-up to get more control over Wall Street.  Again, I don't know if the Washington crowd is that smart.  But they have indeed gotten their hooks in.

The sad fact is, though, that in each skirmish Wall Street has won.  The war for control is far from over, but Wall Street is winning.

The real problem is that whether Wall Street or Washington wins this was, Main Street will lose.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The BBC is a little skeptical, too

The BBC is getting in a little global warming skepticism.  They make some interesting points that are different from mine.  They mention the ice core samples data, but don't give a clear interpretation.

Warmest year on record: 1989

Yes, that is twenty years of man-made global warming that has not managed to actually warm anything.

Another thought.  Temperature data is a trailing indicator.  We don't know how warm a year is until after it has happened.  There are no known leading indicators of temperature changes.  Probably there are some leading indicators, like migration pattern changes or early budding of some types of trees.  But we don't know what they are or how to read them.  We would have to keep broad and immaculate records for many decades, or maybe a full century, before we could generate enough statistically relevant data to start predicting temperatures.

In the meantime, we cannot know whether or not the planet is warming or cooling until after it has done so.  This is a classic situation where a charlatan or snake-oil salesman can say whatever they want and then deal with the actual data after the fact, and after they have gotten all of your money.

Much of the global warming fuss comes from the fact that we have had many years of general warming since reliable records started being kept in around 1880.  The planet is millions of years old, and has supported life for at least hundreds of thousands of years.  And we have instrumented temperature readings for the last 140 years.  That's a data sample set of less than two tenths of one percent (0.02%.)  This is not sufficient data to support the scale of the endeavors that are being proposed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Democracy has been bought out.  Too many people have too much power.  And too few people have enough money to rent that power when they want to use it.

The people who have the power have written all of the rules that big money donors can use to buy access.  They have written all of the rules about how they can receive and use that money.  The only thing restraining them is public perception.  Whenever a legislator gets caught a big embarrassing spectacle is made, and they get slapped on the wrists by their peers.  But they almost never even give the money back.  And whatever legislative favor was bought is not returned.

Checks and Balances and Separation of Power have failed.  Both of those principles were based upon an assumption that no one would have enough money to buy off everyone in power.

This Wall Street Journal article has a detailed graph that breaks down all of the campaign contributions made to the House Financial Services Committee by the mortgage and banking industry in an attempt to get a rule changed in their favor earlier this year.  If this is all of it, then it cost them about $300k in bribes to buy this rule change.  Certainly there was overhead--lawyers and lobbyists don't work cheaply.  But I'll bet this isn't all of the contributions.

I'm not a big fan of attack politics.  And I'm going to try to keep my criticisms pointed at the system, instead of at individuals.  This time the whole committee got caught, including lots of members of both parties.  Which is precisely my point.  This isn't just a problem in this party or that party.  This isn't just the party in power or the one out of power.  This is systemic.  As long as there is this much power concentrated in this small number of hands we will always have this problem.

hat tip: Barry Ritholtz

Friday, October 9, 2009

What is Randy writing?

Good question.  The short answer is "lots of stuff."

I have a fiction novel that is at about 45,000 words right now.  A first novel is supposed to come in at around 100k words.  I'm projecting about 110k-120k words to finish the plot that I have outlined right now.  The working title is "The eight lives of Walta Sepatet."  Think Job meets 'Gulliver's Travels', but with less obscure imagery  Walta meets God and figures out why bad things happen to good people.

I have eighteen other fiction novel ideas written down.  I have a new idea for a novel at least once a week, but only a few are really worth writing.  Those are the ones I've been writing down.  Some of those are just a paragraph or two description right now.  A few of them have several scenes and a full plot outline written.  But I'm ignoring these until I get Walta finished.

I have a few non-fiction book ideas rolling around in my head.  Right now they are all still in the research stage.  One of those is my magnum opus, 'Democracy 2.0'.  Non-fiction is easier to write.  So if I come up with a good non-fiction book idea that I can write quickly, I might pause Walta and do that first.

I'm going to continue to write on this blog.  I'm probably going to try to get some articles published on other websites.  And I might write some short stories, either to self-publish here or to submit to science fiction sites/magazines/anthology books; as a way to practice my craft and get my name established.

Obama wins!

Someone else made the images.  I just laughed and posted them (with his permission.)

I have nothing more to say.

Not afraid any more

I'm not looking for a job any more.  That particular search is over.  All of the soul searching led me to examine what I really want and need.  While a steady paycheck is clearly desirable, and I might have to get a job to make ends meet at some point, my heart and life are not there.

This is going to take a while to explain.  And I don't yet have all of those words.  So consider this a teaser preview:

I'm going to spend my time praying, reading, thinking, writing, and talking.  I'm going to write both fiction and non-fiction.  The fiction won't be empty pot-boilers, it will be pointed and focused teaching of truth through stories.  The non-fiction will be honest and true, but may cover any topic.  The talking may just be more blog videos, or it might evolve into genuine paid speaking engagements.

I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to earn money and pay the bills.  I see some hints of where the money might come from.  Let's just say for now that I have faith that money will be taken care of.

The most important point here is that I am no longer afraid.  I'm no longer afraid of my own voice.  I'm no longer afraid of speaking up and being judged.  I'm no longer afraid of failing.

No, I haven't told Christy yet.  But I'm not afraid of her any more, either.

Wild at Heart

I just finished reading 'Wild at Heart' by John Eldredge.  Great book.  I highly recommend it.  Especially if you are considering making some changes in your life.  Parents of boys need to read it, too.  And young men should read it at around 16 or 17, I think.

As is my custom, what follows are a few notes to myself about what I got out of the book.  This is just a tease for you who haven't read it.  If the quotes and points below intrigue you, go read the book and then ask me questions.  :-)

If you read below, you will see that I have my answers with regards to Plan A / Plan B....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Who is Randy?

Update: Before I finished this write up I called off the job search--at least in my heart.  I haven't written that part out yet, but the blog will be changing shortly to reflect the new mission.  But I'm a Tenacious Devoted Thorough sort of guy, so I can't leave this unfinished.....

I asked my friends and former co-workers to help me with a branding exercise.  I asked them to each give me one word to describe me.

Some gave more than one word.  There were lots of words that were given by more than one person.  Most of the common words were pretty generic--Intelligent, Devoted, Thorough, and Organized.

So I'm going to use some of the less common words for my branding for this job search.

Primary Brand: 

Secondary Brands:

I still need to think through how these brands affect my elevator pitches, resume, and the blog.  But that is all on hold while I decide what I'm going to do about the whole Plan A / Plan B problem.

Click through the read link below to see how everyone answered the question and my analysis of the answers.

Thanks for helping with my branding

I sent out an email yesterday to a bunch of people asking for help with my branding.  I'm still digesting the results.  But I wanted to go ahead and say thanks to the people who replied and helped me out.

John M.
John P.

You guys are great.  I really appreciate your help.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The beginning of the end of tyrany in Syria

My senior research paper predicted the fall of the Soviet Union within 18 months.  I wrote the paper in March of 1990.  In fact, the Soviet Union began collapsing in August of 1990 (the first aborted coup) and finally officially dissolved in December of 1991 (Ukraine voted to secede and took it's nuclear weapons with it.)  I still have the paper.  I got an "A-" because I did not quote enough sources.

I know a lot more now.  I've read a whole lot more.  And with internet news, I can see more of what is actually happening around the world.

Lots of it is just more of the same.  But the game just changed recently in Syria.  This little story clearly marks the beginning of the end of the dictatorship in Syria.  The story involves freedom of speech, the internet, and masturbation.  So decide for yourself if you want to know the details....

Comfort food

When I feel down there are certain foods that help lift my mood.  When I am sick, there are certain foods that bring me comfort.  Some of these I know where the association started.  Some of these make no sense.

I was sick a lot as a kid.  I had bad allergies and a constant runny nose.  And thus I had lots of sore throats.  My mom would make me "jello drink".  Heat two cups of water (near boiling is fine.)  Stir in a regular packet of Jello.  Stir and drink.  At first you have to sip, but when it cools enough you can chug it.  It really soothes a sore throat.  Peach is my favorite.  Black Cherry is also great.  Grape and Orange are also very good.

When I'm lonely or depressed I like a burger and tots with a cherry lime-aid from Sonic.  (I also get this sometimes when I'm just hungry and not depressed.)  I think that Dayna (my oldest sister) worked at Sonic for a little while.  I would have been about 6 then.  I don't have any specific memory of eating this.  I just found that it picks me up when I'm blue.

Runners up:
Cream of tomato soup, with salty crackers.
Chicken noodle soup, also with salty crackers.
Chocolate cake.

I thought about adopting some exotic food as a comfort food.  But at heart I just like the simple things in life.

48 Days to the Work You Love

Last night I read '48 Days to the Work You Love' by Dan Miller.  Great book.  Easy to read.  Poignant.  Powerful.  Full of ideas.  This one is worth reading whether you are job searching right now or not.  The notes below barely qualify as a teaser.  These are just the points that I felt like I needed to keep handy for me.  I've read the book, so I know all of the meaning that Dan put behind these points.

My perfect desk

I thought of this years ago: the treadmill desk.  I even photoshopped a keyboard and monitor onto a treadmill to explain what I was talking about.  Curt and Matt at Journyx (and maybe some others) should be able to vouch for me on this.  This was long enough ago that screens were all big bulky CRTs--LCDs were still way to expensive to consider.

I didn't build it because I reasoned that the up-and-down motion of walking would make the screen too hard to read.  The screen (and maybe the keyboard) would need to move up and down with the walker, and that was too hard to build and too expensive to sell.  If you check the reviews on this (and it's competitors) that is exactly what you will find.  It works ok for surfing and videos, but you have to stop walking to read any significant amount of text.

We're approaching the technological point where someone could mount a camera on the whole thing and use hydraulics to move the screen (and maybe keyboard) up and down as the person walked.  Or just get some glasses with the screen projected on them--they would move with you, also.  That might be worth buying.

Until then I would be happy with a desk that I could move up and down.  My lower back gets sore from sitting.  I switch out to sit on a big posture ball sometimes.  But I often just have to stand or change positions.

I need a table top, a keyboard and mouse drawer below the tabletop, a screen, and a headphone jack (probably on the speakers.)  I want to have an easy clamp mechanism that is counter-weighted, so I can squeeze the clamp and lift or lower the work area.  The desktop might have several books on it, so the counter-weight system needs to accommodate that some.  I need it to range from full standing height to literally laying on my belly with a small pillow under my chest and elbows.

I found a couple of similar items, but neither is quite right.  One is very expensive and doesn't go down far enough.  The other is too small of a tabletop and doesn't go down far enough.

Somebody go invent that for me, please.  Thanks.

Yes, I am also thinking about getting a different chair.

Visual perception

Time for another little break from the festivities.

Scientific American has a fascinating slideshow of 10 different illusions and explanations of how we see faces. One hint: don't read the description of the 10th slide until after you find the face.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Branding and elevator pitch notes

The Austin Job Seeker's meeting yesterday covered branding and elevator pitches.  I'm kind of stuck at the moment because I am juggling my dream job with my plan B job.  I'm finding it very hard to work on both at once.  So I'm typing up my notes from Monday's meeting.  Once published I will be able to come back to this later, when I'm ready for it.

First you brand, then you write your elevator pitches, resume, etc.  You should even brand before you decide what you want to do next--understanding your own brand is critical to understanding yourself.  In fact, I should have branded before I started this blog.  After I brand I should probably edit the blog to make it sing from the brand hymnal.  Or, my branding exercises should take what I'm doing here into account--that would be a very authentic brand, which is important.

Seeing is no longer believing

Go watch this short video about a research project called 'PhotoSketch':

I predict that this will be available as a free web application within the next year.  The initial version(s) will be a little rough.  Within a few years this technology will progress to the point that even trained professionals will have a difficult time distinguishing these compositions from normal digital photos.

And then it is only a matter of time before similar technology is applied to videos.

You have been warned.  Stop trusting your eyes.  Photographic evidence is now moot.  Video evidence will be moot shortly.

Welcome to the wild wild west.

For those of you who missed it, this is part of what Alvin Toffler warned us about in Future Shock.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The blog layout was broken, but is now fixed

The right column on the main page is falling down below the left column, for some reason.  It isn't doing that on any page.  It isn't doing that when viewing September posts.

The post for the 'Lord Save Us From Your Followers' movie is not generating the right amount of space above the article.  I'm not sure if that is related.  This post is a test to see if another post will fix the problem.  :-)

I've played with the layout settings a bit, to no avail.  I'm going to sleep on it before I contact Blogger support. (sigh)

Update: I've figured out that it is something in the article I wrote for the Austin Job Seekers Network about what to do in the first two weeks after you get laid off, and the overview of the job hunting process. That article will appear and disappear a few times until I figure out what it is about that article that is causing the problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Update #2: Got it.  This is apparently a bug in Blogger.  The blog post editor has a nice little button to add the 'Read More >>' link.  I had added that right before a heading that had span and div tags.  I had it before the heading, but it was placed inside of the div tags.  Then when the post appeared on the front page the closing div tag was missing (it was after the break.)  I posted this solution in Blogger's discussion groups.  Hopefully the Blogger team will fix this--they already apply lots of little HTML checks when you save a post, ant this would be easy to add.

My brand

The 'get my next job plan' is about to get changed (probably tomorrow.)  I found out today that I had skipped a step or two, and had a few steps in the wrong order.  The big step that I skipped is "developing my personal brand."

What do you think of when you think of BMW, Coke, Mercedes, Nike, or Marlboro?  Whatever you come up with in 1-3 words is that company's brand (maybe an old brand, or maybe an unintended brand, but their brand none-the-less.)  Before I decide what I want to do next (oops) or write a resume, I need to have a brand.  That brand needs to shine through in all of my written and verbal communication, presenting a unifying theme that will let prospective employers get a quick sense that they understand what I'm all about.

Tom Peters said this about managing "brand You" in an article on Fast Company (the whole article is worth a read, but this bit is particularly important):
"No matter what you're doing today, there are four things you've got to measure yourself against. First, you've got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you've got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you've got to be a broad-gauged visionary -- a leader, a teacher, a farsighted "imagineer." Fourth, you've got to be a businessperson -- you've got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes."

My accomplishments

This is the list.  It's sorted in very roughly chronological order at this point.  Depending upon the precise position I am going after with any given version of my resume, I will pick several of these to highlight at the top of the resume.  The remainder will mostly end up in much of the body of the rest of the resume.

If you can think of any others, or if you have any suggestions for rewording, please drop me a note in the comments.  Each one is worded with the company name and such so that I can pluck them out of this historical list....  The ones highlighted at the top of the resume will be worded this way.  In the body of the resume they will be edited down.

Predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union within 18 months in my Senior thesis in March, 1990 (final collapse was either 10, 15, or 21 months later, depending upon the precise event you choose as the mark of the end.)

In 2006 I began warning friends and family that the US housing market was in a bubble, and that a price correction was coming.

I was promoted 9 times in 6.5 years (two stints) at CompUSA.

Leading salesperson in selling warranty contracts in my store at CompUSA, during my time in retail sales there.

Thanks for helping with my accomplishments list

I'm working on compiling and finishing my list of accomplishments.  These people from Journyx helped me out by brainstorming for me and sending me some accomplishments.

Matt East
Andrew Reutter
Brian Maxin
Andrew 'Yongi' Trent
Bill Balcezak
Curt Finch
James Brawner
Robyn Burns
Scott Whitney
John Pell
Rob Irving

Scholars, all.  Many thanks.

Overview of the job search process

(This is a conversation for the Austin Job Seeker's Network LinkedIn group.  I just had more to say than would fit in one of the LinkedIn comment fields.)

Greetings all,

I was laid off just over two weeks ago.  I'm just finishing up dealing with the mechanics of getting laid off and transitioning my family and life into this new phase.  And I am just barely getting started with the preparations of the job search.

I think that many of the people who follow behind us on this path would greatly benefit from an outline and practical advice for dealing with the first two weeks, specifically, and then with an overview of the rest of the process.  I've written out my notes below.  Would you spend a minute to add your suggestions in the comments?

Hopefully you and I will be working full time soon, and so someone who follows behind us will take this to the next stage and clean it up, etc.

If you have suggestions then please reference the step #.  Like, "In step 6 I would suggest that you add _______."  Or, "I think that step 17 needs to come much earlier, like maybe before step 6."


Overview of the job search process

I'm sorry for you that you are having to go through this.  There are lots of good people who have gone through it before you and left behind some good resources.  You will get through this.  Please take the time to help others while you are here.  Share your experiences and ideas with those who are travelling here at the same time as you.  And consider spending a little time improving these resources for the people who come behind you.

Lord Save Us From Your Followers

Max and I went to see the movie 'Lord Save Us From Your Followers' last night.  There were 8 people in the theater, including Max and myself.  All 8 of us were from Grace, including pastor Matt.

I would highly recommend the movie for believers and non-believers.  They do a good job of framing what is wrong with the charged "discussions" that happen today and point to a better way.  I laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time.

I'm afraid that it's run at the theaters is probably at an end.  So you will need to rent it.  I would recommend that you do rent (or buy) it and watch it with a big group.  And then plan some time afterwards to discuss it.

The movie discusses some adult issues, and I'm afraid that some of it went over Max's head.  If you haven't had 'the talk' with your kid then don't show them the movie, yet.

Those of you who have read my other blog will recognize some of the major points in the movie from one of my bigger posts there. I sent that blog post to Matt Cassidy back when I wrote it in 2006. I wonder if he remembers it. We were late getting out of the movie last night, and I didn't take time to ask him about it. I regret that now. I may chase him down and ask him soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fear the Lord

I just got back from the Austin Christian Executives (ACE) Bible study.  It was my first visit.  If you're in the area, it's worth a visit.  Don't read too much into the word Executive.  Jeans and a polo are fine.

David Smith lead the study.  We looked at Exodus 1:15-22.   Pharoah commands the midwives to kill Hebrew boys as they are born.  The midwives "fear God more than they fear Pharoah", and decide to not commit the murders.  Pharoah calls them back in asks them why they didn't do it.  They lie to Pharoah and say that the Hebrew women are giving birth before they get there.

David brought a few very interesting points.  Pharoah had provided midwives for the Hebrew slaves.  These ladies came in to Pharoah's court and spoke directly to him.  That means that they are probably Egyptian women, not Hebrews themselves.

So these Egyptian women spent enough time among the Hebrew slaves that they picked up on the Hebrew God.  They recognized Pharoah's power--they had enough sense to lie to him instead of telling him that they chose to disobey his orders.  But they reckoned that the Hebrew God, whom they had only heard about from these slaves and had never seen, was more powerful than Pharoah.  It's no wonder that God honored them.

We had a good discussion of what it means to 'fear the Lord'.  I think about it this way.  Faith is an intellectual assessment of the evidence of history and a decision to trust in the goodness of God.  Fear is an emotional reaction that comes out of a person's soul/spirit that acknowledges God's power.  You cannot fear God if you are not convinced deep within your spirit that He is, and that He punishes and rewards.  In this way, fear of God is an involuntary proof of deep conviction.

Pharoah has put himself in a bad situation.  He is pretending to be god.  It's unclear whether or not he believes his is god.  I tend to think he realizes he is not, otherwise he would have just used his god powers to kill the Hebrew babies instead of impotently depending upon the midwives.  Then when the midwives fail to do what he wishes, he just shrugs.  The midwives were right about him.

Then Pharoah makes a terrible mistake.  He openly orders all of the male Hebrew children to be killed.  There is no rationale for this that makes sense.  He doesn't put anyone in particular in charge of the edict, so he has no one to punish when it fails.  He gives a command he can't possibly enforce, and thus demonstrates his impotence to the entire country.  And he throws down the gauntlet in front of the Hebrew God.

Do you think that he remembered this edict when Moses announced the 10th plague?  Do you think that God would have resorted to killing the Egyptian boys if Pharoah had not attempted to kill the Hebrew boys?  He named the means of his own destruction, allowing his pride to run off his mouth.

Pharoah was foisted on his own petard.  How often have I made this same mistake?  How often have I trusted in my own abilities instead of trusting in God?  How often have I claimed that "I can handle this", only to have my own pride thrown back in my face?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Another example of how the poor get the shaft

"Nearly a million poor people who seek help for civil legal problems, such as foreclosures and domestic violence, will be turned away this year by the nation's largest nonprofit legal aid network because of insufficient resources, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) projects in a report released today."

Here's the article

I'll reiterate.  The system was created by the rich for the rich, and the poor get excluded.