Saturday, June 15, 2013

When All You Have Are "Cow Tools"....

Gary Larson is undeniably brilliant, but he is not a perfect pen and ink talent.

Yet he used his unpretentious illustrative ability to convey clearly many quite abstract ideas. And he would do it in one panel.

He could reach into his very simple bag of cartoon inker's "Cow Tools" and produce an image that opens a window on a different way of seeing the world. One that reveals a unique viewpoint and explores general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

He was more of a philosopher than a illustrator.

Larson's work raises the question: why aren't more philosopher's funny?

His work also suggests that you don't need to have every possible talent perfected to tell a story.

But all I have at my disposal for crafting stories for the 2013 Clarion Foundation Write-A-Thon are a few ideas and the basics of the writer's craft I learned at Clarion East in 1972.

That's my little bag of Cow Tools.

And yet I believe that sometimes, if you work very hard and simply do as well and as right as you can, that will be enough.

(Have a beef? Moooo-ved to comment? Please do so below.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sell Yourself As An Author Without Selling Your Soul

Publishers dream sugar-plum dreams where all of their authors find their own way onto Oprah, 60 Minutes, articles on the front page of the New York Times, and just about any and every possible media purview...while giving out with brilliant interviews from sea to shining studio.

They want us to be "book famous", and the less they have to do, the sweeter the promotion sugar. But it seems that Oprah won't take my calls, and the NYT is not returning my inquiries. What now?

If you have a specific topic on which you write, one method of self-promotion is to join affiliated associations...but don't stop there.

Seriously consider applying for speaking engagements at the germane conferences that cater to your specific genere of writing.

I've worked broadly in Information Security, and IT in general, since the late 1980's. To keep my CISSP in good standing, it is required I perform a certain number of hours of "study" per year. Knowing this is a requirement for many InfoSec professionals, tech ssecurity associations put on nice lunches, with a few minutes for a speaker, that meet the requirements of a "teaching seminar". Some of these "teachers" have presented little more than "Good Security, Good Meet, Good Gawd, Let's Eat!" to cover the "teaching portion" of the presentation.

Many associations not only make it easy to join, but even the shyest author finds chatting at a convivial meet-up of like minded people enjoyable, and find themselves handing out their card, with e-mail address to keep in touch with other members. And some of them may very well look you up and by your commercial or self-published book. They've met you and know you...they may want to read about your expertise in the subject matter.

You never know...unless you try. And joining associations that interest you are quite fun and worth the investment.

For the more extroverted, there are thousands of seminars and subject-matter conventions held world-wide where you may submit a written engagement subject and full text of the speech, and find yourself speaking to dozens to hundreds of folk in your area of interest, where you may also pitch your publication during or after the presentation.

Whatever path fits you best, it is best to network with others in your subject-matter area. You learn much, and your publisher is pleased at your self-promotion and added certifications.

What do you think? Have you any experience with associations and networking that might be of help to us all? If so, please comment below.

Here is a link to a seminar panel presentation I organized some years ago for DefCon (the hacker's convention). It has led to an InfoSec series I am currently fleshing out. It's the second presentation on that page, and our talk covered digital security and a few things relating to my work as Director of Security, Napster (talk about a work title oxymoron!).

Remember, it's not scary out there when the people you'll be meeting and presenting to are people who love the things you love to write about. You can be very serious about work while being equally serious about having fun.

This is a link to a list of upcoming sci-fi know you wanna. Roadtrip!

(This article originally appeared HERE at Amazon-affiliated CreateSpace.)

Friday, May 31, 2013

I Got Your Six: Six Tips for Safeguarding/Recovering eData

You know this one: You're in the middle of either nowhere or chaotic everywhere. Suddenly, like manna from above, like the whisper of an extra-dimensional phantom artist's animus, an idea for a story forms. Good idea. Hell, a Hugo Award nomination idea. Hardly thought you had in you, but here...oh, man!

Now, you lunge for a pen and paper, or smart phone, or e-tablet, or a chapstick to write on your sleeve got nothing with which to etch. Suddenly there's not a blessed stylus in all the universe.

Hey, no worries. Because this idea is so astounding you can hardly believe you gave birth to said same. Surely, you will never, ever forget this plot line...this flash of blinding brilliance. Touched by the muse, you wuz. This? I can hear the usual mental machinations from here: "I totally got this!"

You rush somewhere to write down the idea...but, blank! And that feeling? It's times infinity when your computing device dies and destroys all your hard work and dreams. New tech just has it's own dangers. Heck, I remember getting my fingers caught in typewriter plattens, fer godz sake. Never forget: devious devices are devious.

It's a chilling loss for a writer to face the reality that your entire life's work is now nothing more than vanished electrons, leaving behind only a doorknob dead device. I'm all for "putting it out into the universe", but there's definitely a limit.

You throw back your face to the sky, like Number Six, and scream "I am not a computer, I am a free writer!"

Yet, alas Dear Data Prisoner, all 'tis gone: that idea, those writings, that body of work. Forever.

Maybe. You know, maybe even Number Six escaped the Village. Anything is possible. Like String Theory. Amirite?

Thank the human imagination for computers. And, damn it, too.

Fear not: my pals the Backup Beagles and I have got your six on this.

As I've spent several decades as an Information Security Consultant, a CISSP, and am certified to testify as a subject-area expert in Computer Forensics and Data Retrieval, I thought it might be of use to round up a few computer data safety Qs&As for the working writer. 

  1. When was your last backup?

    After 20+ years in Information Security I think I can wager that the most chilling (and yet most common) question I have to ask a distraught client is: "When was your last backup?"

    The above link points to a page on this issue written by Dave Mastic to his colleagues at the University of Notre Dame, Arts & Letters Computing Office. Listen to him. He knows where from he speaks.

  2. How Do System Back-Ups Work?

    Basics: Enable your operating system's back-up and restore functions. If you're using a Microsoft OS, peruse here. If you are working on a Macintosh OS, try this. If your machine is over five years me a message via comments. That gets complicated.

    And if you are working on prose, consider keeping a writable CD or DVD in your computer. Just before you step away from a project update, save a copy to that media. Saves a lot of e-tears.

  3. My hard drive contains my very life. How do I back up my drive so I could restore my setup just as it stands now?

    I do recommend doing a quarterly full drive backup to an external drive. The easiest method is use a well-known commercial full drive back-up utility. If you like to roll your own from your OS, here's the Microsoft how-to and the Macintosh how-to. Linux and UNIX folk, you're on your own...but we ole sysadmin pirates like it that way. Arrrgh.

  4. Are my data/notes/short story/novel-in-progress/life work really gone forever?
    Not necessarily. Data recovery technology has been with us for a long time now. And this magic is hardly only in the the hands of tech monk adepts. You can have the power to bring data back from the dead. Cool, eh?

    Note: If your data is suddenly missing or erased accidentally the very first thing you do is NOTHING. Stop writing data to that disk immediately. You can easily overwrite the sector where your "erased" data is stored.

    BTW: Data isn't immediately erased, it's just not visible to the filesystem you're usually looking at and sitting on the drive queued for reallocation. So don't start panicking and saving new things or using that computer much prior to a recovery attempt, because your sector of the computer universe is at overwrite risk. (Never thought I'd ever use that phrase in any context on a writer's blog , "overwrite risk"...heh.)

    I will say that Norton Utilities stills rocks the field for ease of use and is made to be safe and non-destructive to that ephemeral data lost (yet still extant) on disk. I've used Norton Utilities since version 0.99 (beta), and the first software company I consulted for was purchased by Symantec for their security warez, so I feel on firm ground in recommending this product for end-users.

    And please note, Thou Bravehearts, that free/cheap/shareware utilities certainly do exist for data recovery. A few are brilliant, a very few. But take extreme caution in deciding to use a recovery program that does not come backed by a warehouse full of hard-on support geeks that can take you by the hand through your hard drive's minefield. Not to mention, it's a trufax that some free recovery utilities are literally complete code-fails and sure to murder your media.

    Recovering data is much like playing the board game "Operation", make the wrong move by a fraction of a millimeter or input the wrong command and your data is NOW certifiably gone.

    I always advise caution in going at data recovery on your own without either a basic geeky grounding in disk technology, or a great friend that works in IT and loves you...loves you a lot, because data recovery can be tedious.

    If you have any further questions regarding basic data recovery, shoot me a comment.

  5. I use my computer's built-in backup/system restore. I'm good to go...right?


    Only cavets are: (a) If your machine is only set to run a system restore on rare occasion, don't hope running it will magically re-appear the doc you just closed while forgetting to save. Restores only bring your system back to the last run restore point. If that was last year, forget this method of returning anything you've done on that drive since then.

    (b) Do you have your OS's system restore/backup turned on and configured? If not, reference Item 1 above for how-to data.

    (c) Your hard-drive or whatever storage media is in good enough shape to run a restore. If your computer wakes up dead, that's different. If your data on that machine is uniquely stored on that boxen, and it is priceless, then you'll need to mortgage the hovel or your ride and call in a professional disk recovery crew. They cost a lot. After working to a certification in disk recovery for law enforcement, I now understand why.

    For the titanium-standard recovery geniuses, the wizards at Convar in Germany set the industry high mark. If they can't recover is gone to this world. Convar are the crew that recovered data from the disk fragments found in the rubble at World Trade Center Ground Zero.  So, take heart: the state of the art in data recovery is out there.

    Protip: If you truly need to go to Convar, remember to come with a pallet of Krugerrands for parsing your platten.

  6. Okay, so what do I do if the hard drive/data storage on my disk is entirely dead and beyond recovery, and all my life's work is lost?

    First, come here. *hugz*.

    Ahem. Remember how you've longed to purchase the latest and greatest newest gadget? Remember how you have at times longed as a writer to return to the days of halcyon as if there were an entirely new world before you ripe for biting into?

    The good news is that now...well, here's your chance.

Questions? Comment below.

Oh, and dear Clarion compatriots: if despite the best intentions in this weird e-world, you do have a sticky issue with lost data on your computer during the Clarion Write-A-Thon 2013, or have any general questions regarding data security, just shoot me a line via the comments section below. I'll try to help without exacerbating the situation.

One time free geek offer. For Clarion Write-A-Thon writers. Can't hurt.

Well, not hurt nearly as much as losing the single finest story concept of a new century. For eternity.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Writing About Writing, or Feeling A Little "Meta" Hari....

Here find a chronicle of my processes and progress as I wend my merry way through the 2013 Clarion Writer's Workshop "Write-A-Thon".

This year's Write-A-Thon will begin in earnest on June 23rd, and end on August 4th. Come join in the dance.

It should be quite a soiree, and it's all for one of my dearest causes. I hope to raise a modest pledge of $200.

It is secondary whom you might choose to support. The deal is that you have a unique opportunity to follow incredible writers as they create cutting-edge Speculative Fiction. And any contribution insures that Clarion can continue to produce award-winning authors year-after-year, decade-beyond-decade.

My best wishes to colleague participants in this year's Clarion Write-A-Thon: Bare All, Dare All.