Home Amongst The Snow

(Warning – lots of pictures in this post.)

Well, we’re back home in Iowa again.

Thankfully, the state was kind enough to meet us halfway on temperature (40 degrees vs the 80s of the past week).  Groceries have been procured to fill the empty fridge, the first of many loads of laundry begun, the dog retrieved from the in-laws, and the cat … well, let’s just say it’ll be a while until he forgives us for this latest transgression.

But despite the rough adjustment back into reality, it’s good to be home again.

The vacation was great. Very relaxing and stress free. Did a lot of reading, thought a lot about my own writing (but I didn’t write more than a few hundred words the entire week).  We got to meet a bunch of new couples, see ancient Mayan Ruins, play beach volleyball (precisely 4pm island time, right behind our cabana), and go snorkeling in some of the clearest water you’ll find outside of an Evian bottle.

The staff at Coco Plum is nothing short of phenomenal.  The kitchen was remarkably accommodating with Steph’s vegetarianism and my assorted dietary requirements.  When the bartenders discovered I didn’t drink alcohol, they took it as a challenge and came up with all sorts of interesting concoctions (my favorite? Sprite and Orange Juice – simple yet yummy).

Even departing the island was memorable.  Nothing is more fun than riding 9 miles to the mainland in a boat followed by a flight in an 11 person Cessna in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm.

Without further ado, pictures are after the break (click to embiggen any image).

Continue reading “Home Amongst The Snow”

Twelve Hours Difference

The view as we left our hotel at 3:00am on Tuesday:

The view from our cabana at 3:00pm on Tuesday:


Edit: Apologies but Internet here on the island is sporadic at best and slower than a really lazy stork. I’ll update more when I get time to spend 30 minutes waiting for a good connection.

South of the Border

And just where do you think you're going?


While Tim Tam might object, we’re on our way out the door for a pleasant little vacation off the coast of Belize.   The resort we’re staying at – Coco Plum Cay (map) – has a mere 10 cabanas on the entire island.  We expect to spend much of our time sitting on a beach, snorkeling, or taking in the Mayan ruins.  Our first flight leaves at 5:30am, so it’ll be a rough start but somehow we’ll manage.

So have fun back in the States with winter and please, whatever you do, don’t let Tim Tam take over in a coup. It won’t end well.

How To Break The Internet – SOPA/PIPA Edition

Warning – This entry will have some techno speak but hopefully it won’t blow your mind.

Congress is currently considering a pair of bills – Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (S.968).  Both are bad bills, bought and paid for by the entertainment industry.  Hopefully you’ve seen some of the news stories about it.  If not, well, that wouldn’t surprise me.  Practically every news organization in the United States is owned by a corporation supporting the bill and they haven’t been too eager to share information about opposition to it.

Google has a nice page up to learn More about SOPA and PIPA and why they are bad.  The SOPA Blackout page at http://sopablackout.org/learnmore/ has more or you can read up on the American Censorship page.  Check out the videos, they explain it rather succinctly.

To really understand how bad this is, you need to know how the Internet works …

How the Internet Works

The Internet as we know it runs off Domain Names.  A Domain Name is the Address of a webpage – http://www.facebook.com, http://www.google.com, http://www.mooseandink.com, and so forth.  This is how Humans know the Internet.

Guess what?  Your computer doesn’t care.  Really, it doesn’t.  Domain Names exist for Humans.  Computers care about the numbers behind the Domain Name.  Those numbers are known as IP Addresses.  Every website and computer connected to the Internet has a unique IP Address.

In order to handle this, your computer uses what is called a Doman Name Service Server or DNS Server.  This is a number associated with a server that every Internet connected device has – computer, phone, iPod, etc.  These are often assigned by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that you subscribe to.   The DNS Server translates Domain Names into IP Addresses.

Here’s how this works …

1. You open a web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc) and type http://www.mooseandink.com/.

2. Your computer sends a request to your DNS Server and says “I’m looking for http://www.mooseandink.com.  Where is it?”

3. Your DNS Server sends a request to the Top Level Domain server (the one in charge of .com or .edu or .gov) and says “Where do I go to find out who is in charge of mooseandink.com?”

4. The Top Level Domain server replies “Network Solutions” (i.e. the people I registered my domain with).

5. Your DNS Server now queries Network Solutions and asks, “Where is the web server for http://www.mooseandink.com?”

6. Network Solutions checks its records and replies “”.

7. Your DNS Server now asks, “Please send me the web page for http://www.mooseandink.com”.

8. The server at obliges and sends the web page to your web browser for you to read.

This all happens in a fraction of a second.  There’s a lot more in the background but these are the basics.  Don’t believe me?  Go up to your Address Bar and replace http://www.mooseandink.com with and hit Enter.  Go ahead, check it out.  I’ll be right here waiting.

Back? Hi there.  Now, my configuration on my web server is a little wonky (you probably got a ‘Page Can’t be Found’ error) but you were still directed to my web page, weren’t you?

SOPA/PIPA seeks to break this.  The bill would force Domain Registrars like Network Solutions to redirect traffic of Domain Names suspected of piracy.  So in step #6, Network Solutions would reply with a false address, forcibly sending you to another site that likely will display some scary looking warning stating “THIS SITE IS DISTRIBUTING ILLEGAL SOFTWARE.” or some other garbage.

The way SOPA/PIPA are written, the language is extremely broad and vague.  It means that as a Domain Name owner, I am liable for anything posted to my domain.  Blog posts, comments, links, etc.  This site is small – imagine Wikipedia or YouTube or Slashdot or Facebook?  Author John Scalzi puts is like this: It’s “the equivalent of dealing with burglars in someone’s home by carpet bombing every house on the street. You might stop the burglar, but the collateral damage makes it a hollow victory.”

Besides, it won’t work.  All you need is the IP Address of a Domain Name in order to get around this so-called anti-piracy measure.

How to Find Out An IP Address

1. Windows: Click on Start or the Windows button and type cmd in the Run/Search box and press Enter.

Mac: Click on Go – Applications – Utilities – Terminal.

2. In the box that appears, type ping http://www.mooseandink.com (or whatever domain name you want) and press Enter.

3. You will see something like this:

4. Take the number you see immediately behind the domain name and substitute it for the Domain Name in your web browser.

5. Press Enter and you’ve just bypassed SOPA/PIPA.

You can screw with the Domain Names but you cannot screw with the IP Addresses.  As I mentioned before, these are unique to every single Internet connected device.  You *cannot* have the same IP Address assigned to multiple machines.   Well, in theory you could but doing so would break the very fundamentals of the Internet.  You would have essentially a closed network.  There are places that have these – China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea come to mind.

Now, don’t for a second think I encourage piracy or I’m ignorant of Intellectual Property rights.  I’m a writer.  This has the potential to become my livelihood.  But SOPA and PIPA are bad ways of doing it.  We can find a better way.  The OPEN Act is one possibility, though personally I’m loath to suggest anything that might resemble censorship.

Do your homework.  Pay attention.  Or we can trust the geniuses that keep bringing us such masterpieces as The Last Airbender, Reality Television, or anything involving the Kardashians.

It’s your choice.

A Streak Ends

Last night for the first time in … *does some quick counting* … 46 days, I did not write.  Not a single word.  Nope.

I mentioned once before that I set myself a personal goal of writing 250 words per day.  That’s roughly one book page per day.  If I did that over the course of a year, I’d have a 365 page book.  Not too shabby.  I managed to keep the schedule up through all of December and into January.  Then I stopped it last night.  Didn’t even open up Microsoft Word or my notebook to jot notes.

Did this for two reasons – one was due to exhaustion and being sick.  Work has been a beast lately and tearing me down.  The other, probably more important, is because I wanted to end the streak before we go on vacation next week.  I didn’t want to have that urge of ‘Must write’ while snorkeling off the coast of Belize.  Yes, I can feel the sympathy for my pains.

In any case, the streak is broken but the exercise proved very fruitful and I learned a lot of things.  Here are the big three that stand out:

250 Words is Easy!

It isn’t all that hard to write 250 words per day.  On most days, I could knock it out in less than 30 minutes.  That’s half of my lunch break.  Sometimes I’d even get most of the writing done while waiting for dinner to cook.  You don’t really need a lot of time.

Quite often I’d get more than 250 per day.  I believe my highest was around 2,300 words but I averaged somewhere in the 500 – 750 range.  If I have a scene plotted out in my head or on paper ahead of time, that helps a great deal.  Scenes involving dialogue seem to flow the fastest and action scenes or historical or back story comes out pretty easy as well.

The point is, once you get into the flow, it’s really hard to stop it and you just go with it.

(By the way, this section right here?  161 words or more than half of my daily goal.)

250 Words is Hard!

A refrain heard often in the house – “F**KIN’ BLANK PAGE!  I see the damn scene but I can’t get it out!”

The blank page sucks.  The scene that is beautifully plotted in extreme detail will not want to come out it’s cozy little hole in your head.

This happens.  It’s going to happen and expect it to happen.  Grit your teeth and work through it.  There were more than a few days that once I hit 250 words, I got up and walked away from the desk.  At that point, no chocolate in the house was safe.

Want to know what happened more often then not?  I’d find myself returning after I’d had a chance to cool off and think the scene through and end up writing some more.  Sometimes I’d double the day’s word count.  Frustration sucks.  Don’t give in.

Don’t Get Hung Up on the Details

It’s the little scenes that tend to cause a hang up.  Quite a few days I found myself staring at a passage trying to figure out exactly how to describe the setting or describe the feeling or whatnot.

Then I figured – ‘Screw it.  I don’t have to describe it now.’ and I didn’t.  Here’s what one of those passages look like:

“You should seek rest,” the elf said, mangling the guttural tongue of Men.  “Your wounds are not fully healed.”

“Out,” Kelin croaked.  He pointed at the tent flap and spoke again, switching to Elvish.  “I want to go out.”

The elf hesitated, then reached forward and pulled open the flap.  Kelin leaned against him as they stepped outside.  [WATERFALL.  TENTS.  PLATFORMS IN TREES. TRAINING GROUNDS]

“Where is this place?”  Kelin whispered, fearing the answer.

“We are at Feihem Gorge, Lord Dyser.”

I had no idea what I wanted Feihem Gorge to look like.  I suppose I could have done some research on gorges and gotten ideas but that would have distracted me from writing and I didn’t want that.  So for now, I put in the brackets and the rough idea in all caps to draw my attention to the page on a re-write. I do the same thing if I can’t come up with a good name for a location or character – [NAME].

Yes, I’ll have to come back and get that on the next pass through but that’s why it’s called a 1st Draft.  Get the story on the page, get the idea on the page, and then worry about the fine details later.  Sometimes these come through without any problem and if so, I put them down.  But I’ve been working hard on the habit of not letting it stop the flow of writing.

(And for those wondering – Yes, I will be writing tonight.)

Don’t Look Back

Ten years ago today, the way I looked at the world changed.

That was the day I walked into Wolfe Clinic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and laid myself under a laser beam and let the doctors go to town.

I got my first pair of glasses sometime in the 3rd grade.  After years of broken glasses, lost glasses, and general flailing about and feeling helpless whenever I had to be without my glasses, I decided it was time for LASIK surgery.  Below is the message I sent out to family and friends when I got home that night.

Well everyone, they didn’t put a laser through my head and getting your eyeballs cut open is an unusual experience.  Right now I’m limited by wearing some goggles to protect my eyes and keep moisture in, so those are really fogged up.  On the plus side, I could go outside and be mistaked for Bono from U2.  But here’s the nitty-gritty details:

My vision before the surgery was what they called “four-foot-finger vision”.  That basically means I can’t see anyone’s fingers from four feet away.  Roughly, that translates into 20/600 or 20/800 or worse.

We arrived at Wolfe Clinic about 10:45 and it didn’t take us long to get called back into the exam room.  Once there, they put a whole bunch of eyedrops in my eyes and gave me 5mg of valium.  After a while, the Doctor came in, gave me some more numbing drops, and demonstrated the lack of feeling in my eyes by drawing on them with a pen (felt-tip, not roller-ball).  A few minutes after that, they said “we’re ready”, and off I went to the laser room.

A description of the laser machine:  it’s a flat bed with an overhead projector of sorts that contains the laser.  It’s got a red light that I’m supposed to stare at, and on either side is a row of lights that look like landing strip lights.  They’re also about as bright as landing strip lights, so it is as if I spent the entire time staring into a constant flashbulb.

They did the right eye first, taping the left one shut.  A speculum was put on me to hold the eyelids open.  They put a bunch of drops in my eyes (of what, I don’t know), and took some ultrasound measurements.  Then came the suction cup.  The suction cup includes the blade that cuts my cornea open, and this was the part that I had feared the most.  I don’t know what the heck I was thinking, because all I felt was a slight pressure, then it was like the lights dimmed in the room (I went blind), I heard a “whirr” and they removed the suction and folded back the flap.  The Doctor did some poking and prodding, and then began the laser.  The laser, to me, looked like a purple beam.  (Steph thought it looked like a pale blue line drawing fast circles on the eyeball).  The oddest sensation was smelling the smoke of my burning tissue.

After 93 seconds (the average patient needs only 30-60), the laser clicked off and the Doctor “painted” my cornea back into place.  Literally – he put the cornea flap back down, then took a small brush and smoothed the flap back into place.  They did the same thing for the left eye, which was apparently more sensitive since I felt the pressure from the suction cup more.  But still, nothing bad.  The laser went for 90 seconds on this eye.

When that eye was done, the nurse helped me sit up and the first thing I saw was 10 feet away – the face of a clock.  12:05.  I held out my hand and I could clearly see all the features.  That’s about when the joy ended, as they put on my Bono glasses and big, huge welding sunglasses.  Then they took me out to meet Steph and that was it – we were out.  My recovery thus far has been sleeping.  Keeping my eyes closed is beneficial for the moisture and the fact that it feels like someone poured a bottle of shampoo in each of my eyes.  I’ll pretty much be blind until tomorrow morning, when I find out what my vision has improved to.

That’s all from the blind guy.  This message transcribed by Steph.


In the days that followed, I had to buy a bunch of pairs of reading glasses in order to see what was on the computer screen.  My first day back at work I only lasted three hours before headaches forced me home.  I was putting in eyedrops every 45 minutes or so (the moisture helps in healing) and my vision was restricted to a foggy view, almost like looking through a windshield while driving in a heavy rain storm.

About three weeks after the surgery, I regained my vision.  Steph was driving us from grocery shopping.  Typically during that time I just kept sunglasses on and my eyes closed but for some reason I took the sunglasses off and looked around.  Blurry and then, snap, clear as day.  Colors.  Cars.  Buildings.  Grass.  Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked beautiful.  I believe my exact words were, “Holy shit. I can see.”

No pun intended, but I haven’t looked back once.  Every now and then, especially on bright days, I look about and marvel at how I went from being close to blind to being able to see once again.

And now, because I feel like it, a video.