Monthly Archives: March 2008

I’ll Pay For This.

I ran the 2008 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K this morning. The Shuffle is the kick-off for the Chicago racing season and, for many of us, the true start of spring. In keeping with the kind of winter we had and the way spring has started, it was below 40 degrees at the starting line. For the first time since I started running this race (1997, I think), I wimped out and wore tights instead of shorts. I felt like a real wuss when I saw the guy with no shirt, covered in green body paint and wearing a neon green wig.

I set a personal record today by over a minute — I came in under 36 minutes, far and away my best time ever. Yes, I’m bragging, but with a purpose: I have discovered the secret to fast times, and I’m going to share it with you. It isn’t training; I haven’t done much running this winter, or any cross training. It isn’t diet; I have not been particularly careful about what I’ve been putting in my mouth the last few months. And I got less than seven hours of sleep last night.

Here’s the secret: drugs.

This morning, I arrived downtown just over an hour before the start of the race. I parked, emerged onto Michigan Avenue, and immediately began to look around for a dealer. I knew there had to be one nearby. There! I ducked into a storefront doorway, and placed my order. Minutes later, I had it: a double espresso. I gulped it down while it was still hot, and I was off to the races!

Oh, I know the side effects, but I was willing to bet I could get to the port-a-johns before the race started, and in fact I handled that issue just fine. Mrs. Unfocused says I need to put an asterix by my time this year, but I say if the major leaguers can do it, so can I. I just hope that I don’t develop a tolerance and have to move up to triple and quadruple espressos, because that could get expensive.

I’m going to feel it tomorrow, that much I promise you.



I just passed a milestone on Meet the Larssons: 50,000 words (50,083 as of 10:24pm CDT, to be exact). It’s a long way from done, but it’s moving along nicely. I have the word meter set for 100,000 as my target, and that’s probably right for the first draft. I expect to cut some of that in revision — maybe 10,000 words — not to make it shorter but because I’ve either overwritten some of the technical details (what we refer to at the firm as “lawyer stuff,” or would, if we weren’t charging for it) or just to tighten up the prose. I also expect to have to write additional scenes or partial scenes, so it may all net out even in the end.

My target when I’ve finally crunched through the editing process is somewhere between 90,000 and 110,000 words, which should be enough to tell the story without channeling James Michener (I should be so lucky). By no coincidence, this seems to be the range that editors and agents are looking for from a first-time novelist (at least according to Editorial Ass and Nathan Bransford; I also noticed that it’s what Scalzi hit with Zoe’s Tale).

Fifty thousand words is not just the halfway point for my target word count for MTL; it is also the target word count for NaNoWriMo, which I plan to use to hack through as much as I can of my second novel in November. Apparently, all I need to be able to do in November is knock out an average of three times as many words on the novel each day as I have managed for MTL.

No problem.

Happy Easter from the Grey Goo.

Happy Easter. We’ve been invaded by hostile, replicating nanobots, of supposedly “natural” origin. They struck the most vulnerable member of the family first, of course — Junior woke up yesterday with a fever and stuffy nose and a cough, then threw up as his body attempted to expel the nanites, to no avail.

One by one, our defenses appear to have failed. By last night, Unfocused Girl, Mrs. Unfocused, and I all had mild fevers, but our diagnostic equipment has been malfunctioning, and is therefore unreliable. Mrs. Unfocused had the highest fever of the three of us, but this morning Unfocused Girl woke up with a stuffy nose and cough. Between her and Junior, they are emitting enough grey goo to convert most of the eastern half of the continent.

The nanobots are using our bodies’ energy for their own replication, leaving us droopy and listless. The vaccination I received last fall appears to be useless against this strain of nanite.

Don’t let this happen to you. Avoid potential carriers of nanobot infection, and remember to wash your hands often — the soap won’t disable the nanites, but may make your skin slippery enough at the molecular level that they will be unable to find purchase.

At least we have lots of candy.

I’m Done!

The first draft of Test Tube Beneficiary is done, done, done. It’s my first complete work of fiction (not counting the flash fic I posted on my Fiction page last month — it’s still there, if you’re interested) in 16 years. Go, me.

I’m going to print it now, and go to bed.

Update (6:10pm): I published this post originally at 1:03am. I’m finally having my celebratory glass of wine. Most importantly, the Mrs. read TTB this morning, and gave it her seal of approval. I was (and am) very excited that she didn’t hate it — by the time I woke up this morning, I had convinced myself that it would need to be largely rewritten — and, despite the facts that she doesn’t particularly like science fiction and that I used to help her fall asleep by telling her about my cases, she really liked it. The only real issue is whether it’s actually science fiction: she thinks that it may be so near-future, and the extrapolation may be so subtle, that it doesn’t actually qualify as sci-fi. It’s not ready to send out yet — I need to take it through the revision process — but when it is, I’ll have to evaluate the potential markets.

Test Tube Beneficiary: The Final Push

Until Tuesday, progress on “Test Tube Beneficiary,” my short story in progress, had come to a halt while I tried to make some headway on the novel. On Tuesday, though, I brought my MacBook on the train and got a few hundred words written on TTB. On Wednesday morning, I rewrote the last couple of paragraphs I had written on the train home the day before, and realized that while I knew how the story was to end, I had no idea how I was going to get there.

I went to the gym over lunch and had a decent run (listening to I Should Be Writing on the iPod, natch), and by the time I was done with my shower, I had the roadmap to the finish. I stood dripping wet in the locker room with a towel wrapped around my waist, tapping away on the crackberry to get it all down in an email to myself (using Gmail so none of it ends up on the firm’s server).

Between the train home and what I wrote after the kids got to bed, I knocked out 2300 words yesterday. I did more on the train this morning. I’ll be done by the end of the weekend, if not before. Then — and this is the key, this is one of the big lessons from reviewing all those rejection slips — I’m going to have to edit the thing. But not before I open up a nice bottle of wine and celebrate a little.

Cheese, Gromit! Cheese!

Animal behaviorists know that if you don’t reward the mouse for getting through the maze, he won’t be so keen to scurry as quickly the next time. Along the same lines, I think I’ve already mentioned that one of the things I find most difficult about writing the novel is that there is no feedback at all. Blog posts get hits and comments, flash fiction is complete in a weekend and receives almost instantaneous reaction, even a short story can be completed in a reasonable period of time.

I’ve been writing Meet the Larssons since January 2, and until Thursday night, no other human had ever seen a word of it. I wrote 1700 words while on a plane on Thursday evening, a complete scene. I wasn’t entirely happy with the scene, but I didn’t think it was miserable dreck, either. I got home just in time to say goodnight to the kids before they went to bed, then had a couple of glasses of wine with the Mrs. The wine must’ve hit me hard, because I offered to show her the scene I’d completed on the plane, unedited. She accepted.

No fireworks, no belly laughs. It wasn’t a fireworks or belly laugh scene, just two people who don’t know each other well having a conversation in a bar, but the lack of any visible reaction made me crazy. I pestered her a couple of times until she told me to be quiet. Finally — FINALLY! — she finished. She said it was pretty good, but obviously rough, and some of the technical explanations could probably be cut, but without having read the previous 210 pages or so, it was hard to be sure. Not, in other words, a pile of miserable dreck. Then she read one screen’s worth of text from a previous chapter over my shoulder (I was checking something several chapters back), and she said she liked that even better. Go figure.

The important thing is that I got my cheese. I’m not completely wasting my time. I’ll get back in the maze now, and I’ll scurry as fast as I can, and I’ll twitch my nose the whole way.

Stupid ears.

What a way to start the day. This is the last time I ever take an online quiz just because Scalzi links to it. We’re the same age, but he tests like a teenager and I test like Middle-Aged Man from Saturday Night Live (actually, I suspect that just knowing who Middle-Aged Man is marks me as old).

You’re not a hoopy frood
You thought you were really with it and in with your younger colleagues but they just laugh at you because you can’t hear beyond this!The highest pitched ultrasonic mosquito ringtone that I can hear is 14.1kHz
Find out which ultrasonic ringtones you can hear!

From Blue Oyster Cult in high school to Bob Mould in law school, I went to loud concerts and didn’t wear earplugs. The worst was the Squeeze show at The Pier in Manhattan in 1986 or 1987 — I had great seats, in the third row, directly in front of a two-story stack of speakers. I couldn’t hear well for a couple of days, which even then I knew was a bad sign. I used to be a hoopy frood, but at least I have the memories.

What? What’dya say? Speak up! Damn kids.

Long Run Sunday

Not that long ago — a few months, at most, although it seems like much longer — my regular Sunday morning run was ten miles, week in and week out. Yesterday, with a lucky combination of better weather than we’ve been having and a lack of other plans, I was able to take my first Sunday morning run in weeks. I slogged out a painfully slow one hour run of almost exactly two-thirds of my former Sunday distance. My running has gone to hell this snowbound winter, but the Shamrock Shuffle is two weeks away and I need to get some miles under my belt so that I don’t embarrass myself. Not that anyone else is concerned about my time, but I’ll know if I’m getting slower. I already know I’m getting older; I can feel it in my knees. I can tell that this running season, Aleve and I will be close friends once again.

I decided at the beginning of the year that once again, 2008 will not be a marathon year for me. I would like to get two or three half marathons under my belt again, and try for a PR at that distance, but I just don’t have time to train for a marathon. I will probably end the 2008 racing season with [insert trumpet fanfare here] the Phedippidations World Wide Half Marathon, a virtual race for entrants all over the world. I ran the first one in 2006, but had to miss 2007; I don’t intend to miss it again. Registration hasn’t opened yet, but I think Phedippidations podcaster Steve Runner announced that the race will be held the weekend of October 11 and 12, 2008 (whichever works best for you). It’s a great idea, and Steve and the other organizers put a lot of effort into making it fun.

If you’re running the Shamrock Shuffle on March 30, maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be wearing black shorts and a white cap.

Happy Pi Day!

Today, March 14, 2008, is Pi Day (3/14, get it?). Unfocused Girl has been getting interested in math lately, and her basic arithmetic has been improving by leaps and bounds. What really gets her attention, though, are the big ideas, and π, which embodies so many important math concepts, has captured her imagination. Unfocused Girl has even memorized the first 11 digits of π (3.1415926535). In honor of Pi Day, I promised her I would post links to some of her favorite Pi places on the web.

First, what is π (Pi)? Here’s a link to the collective wisdom of the Intertubes at

Here is the official website of Pi Day. Happy Pi Day!

This video has Unfocused Girl’s favorite song: The Pi Song (there are a lot of YouTube vids called “The Pi Song”; this one is her favorite).

She is also fond of The Number Pi Challenge, and Happy Pi Day!!!!!!!!!! There are many, many more, but not all are appropriate for children (that is, I don’t think they’re appropriate for my children; you can make your own decisions).

It Isn’t a Party Until Someone Gets Hit With a Golf Club…

which means that what we had Saturday night was, officially, a party, once Junior knocked one of the younger guests on the noggin with an old golf club in the basement (beat that, Professor Plum!). One of our good friends from college was in town for the first time in many years for an academic conference, so the Mrs. and I invited a number of our college group who are still in the area over for dinner, along with children and spouses/partners/significant others. I always enjoy our parties and this one was no exception, but I think our guests had a good time, too — Harriet even blogged about it, which is pretty high praise. To be fair, the Mrs. did most of the hard work; I just opened the wine and poured the drinks.