Brief Review of: Storm Front

The Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher were highly recommended to me by numerous sources.  After finishing the available books for the Game of Thrones series, Storm Front was absolutely perfect.

Where the Game of Thrones series was dark and sorrowful, Storm Front was light and hopeful.

I liked the hero, even when the hero didn’t seem to like himself.  And he really was a hero and a stand-up guy, even as he berated himself for being less than a hero.  I liked that very much, because Harry’s attitude about the world and himself was believable.  I was on board from the get-go.

Something I really enjoyed was the first-person presentation of the story.  It reminded me of how much I enjoy writing first-person.  It’s convinced me that that’s how I’m going to approach my NaNoWriMo project next month.

The only thing I could say about Storm Front that might be construed as a negative was how short it felt.  During the week, I only listened to it during my commutes to and from work, and by the weekend, I was over halfway through it.  I enjoyed it so much, I wound up sitting in front of my computer part of the day today, listening to it while I played solitaire.

I acquired Storm Front through audible, and it was read by James Marsters.  If you don’t recognize the name, he played Spike in the Buffy: The Vampire series.  He did a fantastic job.

I’m looking forward to the next book.  If you haven’t read Storm Front, you should correct that serious oversight at your earliest convenience.


My Personal Life Hacks

I’m a creature of habit.  Not all of my habits are good ones, but I’m still living and breathing, so I’m still working on that.  I thought I’d share a few behaviors I’ve developed, which have helped me with my successes.  Or at the very least, helped me not fail quite as much.  They’re in no particular order.

  • In public restrooms, I always wipe the toilet seat first with toilet paper.  This accomplishes two things: 1. I don’t wind up sitting on some stranger’s piss droplets and 2. I wind up making sure that there is toilet paper.
  • I always put my wallet, keys, and cell phone in the same place in my house.  I don’t remember the last time I lost my keys or wallet.
  • The thing I always hated most about laundry was folding clothes, especially socks.  A year or two ago, I discarded all of my socks, bought new ones that are all identical (well, I have some that are black, and some that are white).  I no longer fold socks.  I hang up all of my clothes on hangers, so those don’t have to be folded, either.  The only things that have to go in drawers are my underwear and shorts, and I don’t wear shorts that often.  When I stopped folding socks, it was like freeing myself from a set of chains that I thought I’d have to live with for the rest of my life.
  • I never write checks.  It’s either cash or debit card.
  • I use my bank’s online presence to pay my bills.  I don’t let agencies automatically go in and take my money.  That way lies madness.  But I’ve got it down to the point where I spend 15 minutes a month paying my bills online, and never have to worry about bills again.  I haven’t had a late payment on anything in nearly 12 years.
  • I don’t keep a lot of personal things at work anymore.  If I needed to move desks, I could do it in less than 15 minutes.  Because my work space is relatively sparse, it also always looks neat and tidy.
  • I like to work in a place where people are happy to see me.  I like to work in a place where there is free food and candy available for people to enjoy.  I bring in doughnuts every Monday and put them in a high traffic place, and I keep a bowl full of candy near my desk.  I try not to talk about personal things going on at work, though some things get out.  This makes my work environment drama free, with sweets around me, more or less achieving my goals.
  • The only credit card I use is a Chevron gas card.  It could have been Texaco or Shell or any major chain.  The point is to be exceedingly consistent with the type of fuel I put in my vehicle.  If there are car problems, I’m never going to wonder if it was some cheap gas I put in.  Also, I pay the Chevron card off completely every month, so I always know how much money we spend on gasoline.
  • I keep the alarm clock across the room from the bed, so that I have to get up in order to hit snooze or turn it off.  When I kept it near the bed, I’d turn it off in my sleep.  I’m a heavy sleeper, and I have a hard time waking up in the mornings.  This one trick is pretty common to a lot of people, but I need to mention it just because of how much it’s helped me over the years.
  • I keep dental floss near my computer at home, and in my drawer at work.
  • When I’m overwhelmingly busy, I make lists.  I write down the tasks so I can cross them off.  If the tasks are large or complicated, I break those into sub-tasks.  Writing lists has gotten me through many crises.

I’m sure I have some others, but the list is already longer than I expected.

What sort of personal life hacks do you employ?


The Blog Stat Game

Some time ago, I think I posted something about how if I put in some kind of visit counter, I’d watch it. I’d obsess over it. I’m a classic gamer; give me some sort of bar that can be filled and I’ll try to fill it.

I installed a visit counter and I’ve been watching it.  I can see where the visits come from, and it’s been interesting. This month, I’ve been getting about 10 visitors a day. Since the only promotion I’m really doing is via twitter and facebook, that seems pretty good to me. When I get something published, who knows how high that number will get to? Maybe all the way up to 12 a day! Woo!

In all seriousness, though, I’ve noticed some other interesting things. This month, since I’ve been doing daily posts for Blog-tober, I’ve been getting more visits. I had an especially large swell of visitors (17) when I made my one political post.

So it seems that if I want to have more visitors, I need to:

  • Write constantly
  • Don’t be afraid of writing things that could be divisive

I’m okay with writing constantly.  I don’t want to be divisive, though.  I like stating my opinion, but I usually choose to do it in person, so that I can gauge the reactions of those around me and try to keep them comfortable.

I’m not a frothing liberal, rabid conservative, heavy-handed evangelical, or blood-thirsty heathen.  I don’t care for the extremes.  I think truth and beauty are somewhere in the middle, and that the best course is paved with love and respect.

I’m sure that I’ll post something politically charged again.  I think the conclusion I’ve reached is that I’m not going to compromise who I am just to get more readers.  I’m not going to write something sensational in my blog just for the sake of being sensational.  My priority is to be true to myself.  It is not to try and get a high score in the blog stats.


Successful Writing, Rough Teaching

It’s the end of another long, three day stretch. Mondays are ridiculous, with work, teaching, then band. Tuesdays are pretty long, as I stay late at work to make up for leaving early to teach on Mondays and Wednesdays. Wednesdays, I work, teach, then go off to Starbucks to try and work on my book with Michael. Wednesday evening, before bed, I’m wiped out. I was so tired this evening, that I almost didn’t come out to the garage to put up this blog post.

Today, I’ve been thinking a bit more about what I want to do, and what I’m doing. On Facebook, someone had linked a video I’d seen before, in which a man is talking to students. He asks them, if money was no object, what would they be doing? The point of the video is that whatever our answer to that question is, that’s what we should be doing. It’s better to have a short life full of love and peaceful satisfaction, than a long one in which you are continually doing things you do not enjoy, just so that you can keep on living, doing those things that do not satisfy you. I agreed with that sentiment the first time, and I agreed again today.

So what am I doing? Am I satisfied? Am I doing what I’m supposed to?

When I’m wrestling with my muse, trying to get the words out, feeling the strain of the work that’s involved in writing, I have some doubts. I wonder if I’m wasting my time, scribbling down words that no one will read. I wonder if I am so arrogant as to think that people should spend their time reading my stories, listening to my voice.

These days, I’m pushing through the doubts. I know that whatever it is I do, there will be times when it feels like work. Whatever my vocation, there will be moments where I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, or doubt my ability.

Today was a tough day. I got to the kids’ school and set up for Computer Club. When I was teaching, I made some mistakes. I’m having a hard time keeping the kids interested, and I hate having to repeat myself so much. I put concepts out to them that seem like they should be simple to them at this point, but half of them seem more interested in surfing the web and playing games. I know that I’m doing a good thing, and that in the long run, some of these kids are getting some good exposure to programming that might even serve them later in life. I’ll keep teaching and doing my best, but I know that I’m not supposed to be a teacher. At this point in my life, it’s something I can do twice a week, voluntarily. If it was my full time job, I’d hate it.

On the heels of the rough computer club, I went to go write. I’d made it to the other side of the scene I’d struggled with for so long, but I still didn’t know what I was going to say in the next part. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to figure it out. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to make decisions for the story. I’d been making decisions all day, and I was feeling mentally tired.

Michael and I visited for a little bit. He told me about some of the stresses he’s feeling at home, and how he’s struggling to keep his dream of being a writer alive. While it saddened me to hear about his struggles, I welcomed the distraction, keeping me from having to face my keyboard and the hungry, blinking cursor.

Then it was time to write, and I wrote. I strained to find a place to start at first, but then I had an idea, and I pursued it. Once we got going, time flew, and the words formed easily. Michael and I had written in silence for about an hour and a half, each adding more than a thousand words to our books. It felt good. It felt like victory.

I’m not supposed to be a teacher, but I think I’m supposed to be a writer. Maybe I’ll never have readers. Maybe I’ll never make a living doing this thing that I love. It doesn’t matter. As long as I keep doing what I love, I won’t find myself at the end of my life full of regrets, wishing that I’d tried something else.


A Brief Review of Game of Thrones

I finished the audio books for the Game of Thrones series last week. I feel like I should be calling it “A Song of Ice and Fire” since I think that’s the actual name. I think everyone knows it more simply as “Game of Thrones,” though, so I’ll just go with that.

The super short version: I loved this series.

Slightly more verbose:
The first three books were amazing. Book four was really good, but something of a let down after book three. Book five was a little bit better than book four. I enjoyed all of it, though.

I like how George Martin uses his characters. He gives them consistent personalities with relatable ambitions and quirks. At the same time, he uses them as a craftsman uses tools, with disregard for their well-being, scraping them against rough places until those rough places are smoother.

Listening to the books, I felt like George had a plan, and I felt like I could trust him to execute that plan to the completion of the series. By way of comparison, somewhere in the middle of the Wheel of Time series, I felt like Robert Jordan’s plans had been muddied somewhat. I started to get a little bit worried during A Feast for Crows. I’m not worried, now.

I want to mention Roy Dotrice’s reading. Roy Dotrice did an outstanding job with the whole series. For the most part, he gave the different characters consistent voices. The pronunciation of a few names did change, and that was jarring occasionally. I did have one observation, which is juvenile but funny, and that is every time Roy Dotrice said the word “breast” or “breasts,” it was like he was in a rush to get the word out. It almost sounded like he was barking the word out. It amused me every time, so that little bit had me constantly amused.

So in summary, I found it to be an excellent series with a few minor imperfections creeping in at the fourth book. And by “imperfections” I mean, something unfolded in the story and my response was, “Oh, fuck you, George!” and I shut off the book for a while.


Honoring the Lower Self

I think it was Pol that first introduced me to the idea of a higher self and a lower self. I’ve read about the concept in some self help books, and I might have it totally wrong now. The basic idea is that the higher self is all about doing what’s right, and being responsible, and getting stuff done. The lower self wants to play games, eat pizza instead of cooking, and basically just goof off. Maybe it’s id and ego. Maybe it’s the rider and the elephant. I think the idea is the same across several different concepts. It just depends on what you’re reading.

Something I used to have a tendency of doing was clamping down on my lower self. I’m good at following rules, and when I give myself limitations as rules, I can usually follow them to my despair. That’s how I’m able to drink only water. It’s how I was able to give up caffeine. For a while, when I was working somewhere else, it was how I managed to wear a tie every day to work. When I give myself a set of rules, especially prohibitive rules, I’m able to follow them.

To an extent, that’s how I’m able to proceed with this October exercise of creating a post every day for the entire month. The rule is, I don’t go to bed until I’ve made a post. I can follow rules.

The problem is that we need to be able to let our lower selves have their way, or we become miserable. We need to cut loose and play games, eat some junk food occasionally, or take a day off.

One of the things I really appreciate about where I work now is that they let me do whatever I need to do in order to get the job done. They’re looking at the results I’m producing, rather than what’s on my screen. That’s a good thing, because when it comes to programming, I’ve found that I can honor my whole person at the same time.

It’s easy, as a programmer, when the environment lets you do it. I can entertain my lower self with some music, while I focus on writing code. I can read some news article while I’m solving some logic issue in the back of my mind. To some outside observer, it probably looks like I’m screwing around half the time. I’m not.

At the end of the day, I’m exceeding the expectations put on me. That’s what’s important, and that’s one of the reasons I really appreciate working where I work.


Wrestling the Muse

On Facebook today, I mentioned how I was going to head to Starbucks to “wrestle some words out of my muse.” My friend Pol asked if that was really the kind of relationship I wanted to have with my muse. I then let inspiration guide me in describing my muse as less of a fragile cherub and more of a hard hitting thug. This all amused me very much.

It did get me to thinking about how my writing process has changed over the years, though.

It used to be that I’d sit in front of the computer and just sort of let the words roll out of me. I wouldn’t necessarily have a plan or an idea of what I was going to write. I might get some ideas of where I wanted to go after I started, but those were just guidelines. The experience was just like reading, only the words would appear as my hands and eyes made them appear.

I can still allow that type of writing to take me. That’s how my blog posts form, most of the time. I’ll have some inkling of an idea of a subject, but the form and message presents itself as I’m typing.

When I’m working on my novel or a short story, though, it doesn’t really work that well. I have to give myself a little more structure, and a little more thought about plot. When I let it just wander, it tends to wander into nonsense, or form into something I don’t like enough to finish.

The writing process these days very much is a matter of wrestling. I have to force myself to put my butt in the chair, my hands on the keyboard, and then move the story in a direction that is coherent.

I still get inspired, and it doesn’t always feel like work. Usually, the story idea itself is a matter of inspiration. There is still room for me to be surprised by what I’m writing, but only within the confines of the structure I build out of words. That construction is difficult, and it often makes me tense. Some days, I’m able to wrestle the muse down and get some good writing out of it. Other days, the muse defeats me, and chases me off to do something mindless, like a video game or a Star Trek marathon.


Airshow and Band Performance

Today, I played with my band at the airshow here in Sacramento. We were tucked way off in the corner, and I think there were less than 20 people that stopped and listened to us. I’m sure that every one of those people listening had some family member or relation in the band. We played well, though, and because we were performing, I and my whole family got in for free.

It was really strange, though. It felt like the band performance and the airshow were very separate. When we got there, I asked several people working the airshow where the band was playing, and they all seemed surprised that there was a band. Bryanna and I wound up wandering around a bit aimlessly for a while until Bryanna spotted some blue shirts.

Once we were done performing, we could stay as long as we wanted and watch the show. We stayed for a short while, but not very long. For my own part, I found the aerial display interesting, but not compelling. I think it’s because I lived on an Air Force base for a while, and I’m somewhat numb to it.

I had every intention of getting some writing done today, but instead, today became a day of rest and laziness in the Buhl home. Tomorrow, I’ll probably need to head out to a Starbucks or something and really get some writing done. The end of the month is approaching too quickly.


My Gravity Review — Space is Rough

It’s getting to be my bedtime, but Blog-tober demands a post, so here goes. So here’s my spoiler free review of Gravity.

Melissa and I just got home from watching Gravity. The joke running through my head all week was that I was going to convince Melissa that I was taking her to a Sandra Bullock film. You know, a chick flick, like The Proposal? She knew enough about Gravity in advance that she wasn’t going to let me get away with any of that. But I joked anyway.

I had heard that the movie was beautiful. I’d also heard that it was fairly accurate, with some exceptions that aren’t sufficient to ruin the movie. Even though I’d heard these things, I was still struck by just how beautiful it was. Gravity looked amazing, and at no point was I pulled out of the movie so much as to think she wasn’t in space.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney both gave fantastic performances. We saw it in 3D, and that was done really well. The sound (or lack of sound) was handled perfectly. The score was perfect.

I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about this movie.

This is one of those movies that I’m grateful that I saw it in the theater, but I only need to see it once.

If you have a chance to see it, I recommend it.



I met up with Michael last night per usual, and while we were catching up before writing, Michael mentioned that he was participating in…



… so I guess I’ll do the same.


Unfortunately, I’ve already failed, in that I didn’t post anything on October 1st.  So maybe one of these days, I’ll do two blog posts in a day.  I guess we’ll see.

Last night, I made another break through in my book.  I was really unhappy with a scene I’ve been working on, mostly because it felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was going in one direction, and I didn’t like it.  I changed directions, and managed to add another 1300 words or so, and I’m really happy about it.

Tying word count in with the ultimate blog challenge, I think that I will probably keep my posts a little bit shorter this month.  Something I’ve noticed is that my posts tend to be near 1000 words each.  That strikes me as funny, because when I’m working on my book, 1000 words feels like an accomplishment, and I feel a little bit tired afterwords.  I can throw 1000 words into a blog post easily, though, and sometimes feel like I didn’t say enough.

So here goes… a post every day this month (2 on one of these days), and I’ll keep my posts a little bit shorter.  Let’s see what happens!