Monday, February 23, 2009

Daily Dig - Feb 23, 2009

Here are a few pictures of the front yard with all its plastic flamingo splendor.




And of course, in my yard, digging is a perpetual process. Here are a few shots showing what the ol' badger is up to lately:




The old stump just has to go baby! Time to find a chainsaw soon and start hacking away at those big roots.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Writing and publishing

Very recently, I received a response for one of the stories I submitted to a publisher. In my opinion, the story was well written and I had a level of confidence in it being accepted. Sadly, my writing style was not considered professional. To say I am disappointed is an understatement.

Of course, one must be willing accept rejection on a consistent basis when writing. People are justifiably selective in what they read. I can understand as time is a scarce commodity. Yet finding the appealing balance point of mixing descriptive words with action is a serious challenge. Carefully crafted words and subtleties mean nothing if the reader does not appreciate the style. In the style of stories I write, I've found people require highly active and concisely written material. Add just one too many descriptive words and you've lost them as a reader in an instant. The story becomes valueless from that point forward.

Finding an audience, or being published in general, seems to be a challenging issue many of writers face. In my attempts, I've published work through a variety of different avenues and found each to have quirks.

In some cases, the more vocal participants fixate on a current popular trend or sub-genre. Typically, there is a predominant in-crowd who form closely knit circles. The in-crowd works closely together, providing word of mouth advertising for their cohorts. Unfortunately, the outsiders, along with their work are usually ignored. I've seen well written pieces remain in obscurity while less polished pieces flourish wildly. Yes, I clearly understand the readers are in control. But if the site is general in nature and is taken over by a single group, I still don't have to like it. :(

One of the other types of site I've encountered is haunted by the hardcore writer. At times, I've encountered more than a few who were hell bent on telling others how to write their style, passing along the occasional subtle insult in the process. Hmm, if I rewrite a story in their style, is it still my story? Not in my book.

Ah, the life of an aspiring writer. Rejection, I better become accustomed to it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Creativity

I've been thinking about the creative process recently. Creativity is such a strange beast. At times it comes along in massive waves, so many ideas at times one can’t possibly keep track of them all. And other times, it’s like a dry season where not a single creative drop of rain is to be found anywhere.

Off and on, I’ve been going through a series of dry spells where I just can’t get my groove on. My ability to write comes to a halt, thinking up new ideas for my empire-in-the-sun yard just won’t flow, and my brain simply feels like it’s out to lunch permanently.

It’s like experiencing the blank page syndrome where you stare at a blank sheet and go, “What the heck am I going to write on this thing? It looks so intimidating all blank like that.” Finding the root idea from which good ideas spring is always a challenge.

I noticed the same pattern in the yard last summer. As the landscaping project moved along, more and more ideas raced about my totally tweaked out and wired up little brain. It’s almost as if a fever hit me and I just couldn’t stop trying out strange and unusual ideas in the landscape.

The feeling of creative expression is quite satisfying. Yet these darn mental blocks that happen afterwards feel so irritating. Maybe pauses are necessary to allow the brain to regroup in some fashion. But I for one, love finding motivation to drive me to skip meals at times because I’m so into what I’m doing I don’t want to, or can’t stop creating. Curse you non-creative downtime!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Busy Morning

I've been very busy networking up a storm with my previous co-workers. It seems to be having a positive impact. My email folder has been filling up with people providing suggestions and hints on how to get my foot back in the door at MS for a new contract. It's taken over two hours this morning just responding to emails and I'm still not done.

The economic downturn is definitely making things more difficult due to the recent downsizing event. It seems there are hiring freezes for many teams. But fortunately, some teams are still hiring. On the plus side, I've received an excellent recommendation from a previous co-worker. She provided a very accurate assessment of my strengths and weakness. That is the best type of recommendation in my book because it paints the real picture of the person involved. A hiring manager will clearly know what to investigate during an interview after reading such a recommendation. Useful for both myself and the perspective team I would be interviewing with.

The remainder of today will be spent working on my resume, creating some writing portfolio samples, and reading the "Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications". In the least, reading the manual will help to improve my writing portfolio samples.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Networking with old co-workers

Most of today was spent networking to see if I could turn up any possibilities of a new contract job. I spent over half the day finding email addresses of previous co-workers out at Microsoft. What followed was a series of emails sent to each of the PM's, Dev Leads, SDE's, and Technical Writers that I worked with during the last contract. Hopefully someone will respond back with a potential for a new contract. With the current economic downturn, it's making the task more difficult than it should be. On the plus side, I know a lot of people at Microsoft considering my last contract spanned over a year and a half before my it ended. Just about everybody on the first floor of building 119 saw my face at some point in time. I'm a pretty easy guy to remember and had a well known reputation for doing meticulous work. In the grand scheme of things, I'm hoping my reputation will work in my favor.

I'm going to visit one of my neighbors tonight as he works at Microsoft too. Time to burn a copy of my resume onto a CD and see if I can convince him to hand deliver it to someone. Somethings going to turn up. It's just a matter of finding the right person to wave my resume in front of.

Other than that, I've been sticking my nose back in some of the dreadful interviewing tip books. Interviews at MS are quite challenging. I typically use a book titled "Programming Interviews Exposed" to prepare for the ordeal. For v-dash contractors like myself, an interview consists of meeting with up to four people for an hour each. Each person gives you a problem to solve on a marker board in front of them so they can watch how you solve problems. The biggest problem is that only one person has to give a no-hire recommendation and you get rejected. For slow but meticulous thinkers like myself, it is quite the challenge.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Feeling the urge to landscape again.

With the sun shining like it has been the last couple days, I'm finding the desire to landscape in the yard is growing by leaps and bounds. Yesterday afternoon, I went out and did a little preliminary spring preparations. It might have been a bit too early to do so, but I just couldn't help myself.

The first task I tackled was moving plants around. The center island I've created needs more plants so I borrowed several from the small garden along the back fence. Here's what the island looked like last fall before cold weather set in:



I transplanted several ground cover plants around the large stone in the upper part of the photo. Mostly, I'll need to wait for the plants to start growing again before I can do any additional work as I'm uncertain how large the existing plants will grow.

The next task I tackled was moving about six canna plants. The plants didn't quite get enough sun in their existing location last year so they were moved closer to the garden pond. I decided to place them along side where the waterwheel will go in the pond. If you look at the photo, I used a paint program to draw a red arrow showing where the canna bulbs are now planted. The blue arrow shows where the waterwheel will go once I find time and money to work on it. This photo was taken last fall too as you can still see the banana tree growing over at the right edge.



The third and final task I tackled was working with the single horseradish plant I put in last year. Let me tell ya, people aren't kidding when they say horseradish can be invasive. When I dug it up for dividing, the single plant had roots radiating out at least four feet from the plant. Cutting off about a dozen roots, I replanted it in the same general area. I suspect I will be able to actually harvest the plant this fall and grind up the root for cooking. Mmmm, good stuff!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Pioneer LaserDiscs and serial port control

Okay, here's what I've been able to dig up off the Internet about the RS-232 commands used to control the Pioneer LD-V1000 LaserDisc. While my unit is a LD-V2000, I suspect the commands should fundamentally be the same.

I'll need to hack to together a patch cable to connect a PC serial port to the DIN plug on the LD before I can try this. The old terminal program in Windows should be useful for feeding the commands to the deck.

Info follows:

Credit for the following goes to an original post from: Jim Jackson




Communication protocol:

* Computer activates CTS (pin 5) of RS232 port.

* Then sends a command sequence and expects 'R' and carriage return (CR).

* ASCII digits used for addresses, etc. Returns frame# as ASCII digits.

* Player is string oriented and reverse-polish (arg then verb).

COMMANDS CHARS HEX DECIMAL COMMENT
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Door Open OP open the door
Reject RJ stop disc rotation
Start SA start disc rotation
Play PL (address)PL
Pause PA
Still ST still frame
Step Forward SF
Step Reverse SR
Scan Forward NF
Scan Reverse NR
MultiSpeed FWD MF (address)MF
MultiSpeed REV MR (address)MR
Speed SP integer SP
Search SE address SE
Stop Marker SM address SM
Frame FR set frame mode
Time TM set time code mode
Chapter CH set chapter mode
Audio Control AD integer AD
0=off,1=Ch1,2=Ch2,3=stereo
Video Control VD integer VD 0=off,1=on
Display Control DS integer DS 0=off,1=on
Clear CL clear entry or mode
Frame # ?F get frame number
Time code # ?T get time code number
Chapter # ?C get chapter number
Player active? ?P P00=door
open,P01=park,P05=still
Disc status ?D 5 bytes and CR returned
(and a few others....)

SERIAL PORT CONNECTION:

Computer Player
---------- --------
TxD 2 3 RxD
RxD 3 2 TxD
CTS 5 4 DTR
GND 7 1 GND