Archives for December 2010

30 day challenge: learn 30 new words

For the record, here’s the words I ended up learning this month:

ana: the collection of memorable sayings, writings, or other information of an interesting person.
brumous: misty, foggy
capax: legally competent
daggle: to soil by dragging in the mud
deosculate: to kiss affectionately
dorty: bad-tempered
ensky: to make immortal
eoan: related to the dawn or the east
foss: ditch or canal; an artificial stream
gurry: diarrhea
hwyl: an emotional outburst of eloquence (Welsh)
incondite: crude, unfinished
jehu: someone who loves to drive. a fast driver
kalon: the kind of beauty that is more than skin deep
leal: faithful, loyal, true. Correct, accurate, real. Legal, lawful, just.
lusk: a lazy person
milpita: a little cornfield
nixie: a letter so badly addressed it can’t be delivered
ort: a leftover tidbit
pukka: real, authentic. Superior.
queme: pleasant, agreeable, suitable
rudas: an ugly foul-mouthed old hag
sipid: tasty, flavorful
tiffin: a snack or light lunch
udometer: a rain gauge
vega: a fertile meadow
verbophobia: fear and dislike of words
wanion: a plague. A vengeance
xenium: a present given to a guest
yex: hiccup, cough
zimme: a gem

Also: Happy New Year, everyone!

Which charities do you donate to?

Each year I like to ask what charities people are donating to. There’s still a couple days left in 2010, so I wanted to ask readers about their charity or non-profit giving.

I’ll mention the main organizations on my giving list this year:

  • charity: water brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
  • The Poynter Institute is a school that trains journalists and would-be journalists, both in person and online.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists defends press freedom and the rights of journalists to report the news world-wide without fear of harm.
  • provides tools and data to investigate the influence of money and politics.
  • The Sunlight Foundation focuses on using technology to make government more transparent and accountable.
  • I don’t think I’ve mentioned my Mom’s charity on my blog before, but I did donate money this year to it, so it seems appropriate to mention it. Blessing Hands provides scholarships and other help to students in China. Side-note: in the same way that I don’t accept gifts or free things, if you ever decide to donate any money to Blessing Hands, please don’t tell me; I wouldn’t want a donation to create the appearance of any conflict of interest with my job.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) defends everyone’s digital and online rights. The EFF has stopped more bad ideas online than I can even count.

Those were the organizations that I ended up giving some money to. Now it’s your turn. What charities would you like to mention, support, or call out?

By the way, I’d still like to find 501(c)(3) organizations with low overhead costs that support open-source software. And I’d still like to find an organization that teaches the basics of journalism online for free. The training could cover the history of journalism, research and fact checking, ethics, legal principles, rights, how to investigate, libel and slander, off the record vs. on background, and so on. Sort of like The Khan Academy, but teaching journalism. If anyone knows of such organizations or non-profits, please leave a comment!

Report on a 30 day challenge: Write a Novel

Last month during National Novel Writing Month I decided to write a 50,000 word novel. My novel started like this:

My name is Russ. I’m a journalism student, and I didn’t expect to be in jail. They took me to a squat police station and parked my ass in an interrogation room. They took my cell phone, so I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been sitting here. On the wall in front of me is a mirror, and I keep trying to catch a glimpse of movement behind it.

Maybe I should back up. I can’t believe all of this started with a USB thumb drive.

I intended the novel to be a technothriller, but the the joy in writing a book is seeing where it takes you. It took me to a hacker’s den in Washington, D.C. for part of the story. But it also led me through a discussion of file formats for government documents. Go figure.

My best friend from high school also participated and finished. My wife wrote 50,000 words too. So I was lucky to discover one huge secret of writing: find a writing buddy. It was both humbling and motivating to write with my friend. Humbling, because he let me read what he wrote, and he’s a better writer than I am. Motivating, because I knew he’d be waiting to read what I wrote too. It was enormously fun to compare notes and follow the progress of my friend while we endured the challenge together.

I wrote my entire novel in a single document in Google Docs, and it worked great. In fact, it worked better than great. I added hyperlinks in quite a few spots so a reader could dive more deeply into a topic. When I wanted to insert a picture, it was easy. When I wanted to throw in text that appeared on a computer screen, I could change to a monospaced terminal font. I felt much safer knowing that the novel was backed up in the cloud instead of sitting on a local hard drive that could easily fail.

My best friend used Google Docs too, and a couple times we both had a document open at once. I could see his cursor moving around and watch him writing text in real-time. We also used the “comment” feature to leave jokes or encouragement in each other’s doc. I was really pleased with Google Docs for writing my novel: A+++++ would do business again. 🙂

I also learned the value of a plot outline, mainly because I didn’t have one. I started with a vague idea of my plot, and I knew the ending I wanted. I wrote until I got to my ending, and *crap* I was only 1/4th of the way to 50,000 words. So I kept going beyond my original ending and it turned out fine. But the next time I write a novel, maybe I’ll think a bit more about the plot before I start.

According to the official site, 37,479 people “won” National Novel Writing Month by writing at least 50,000 words. Congratulations to the successful novelists, and all of the 200,530 people who took part in this challenge! This 30 day challenge was definitely one of the hardest I’ve tried. To write a 50,000 word novel in a month, you have to write 1,667 words a day. Each day, I wouldn’t go to sleep until I’d written my word count for that day. For me, that took at least an hour and forty minutes every day, and normally more than two hours each day. I stayed up until 1 or 2 a.m. a lot of nights in November. But on November 29th I finished, and I’m really glad I did. This month I’m doing an easy 30 day challenge (“learn a new word a day“) to recuperate.

I arranged things so that my novel wrapped up just after the 50,000 word mark, but my friend is still pushing forward. My final word count according to the NaNoWriMo web site was 50,035 words (50,675 words according to Google Docs). I’m glad that I did this challenge because now, I’m a novelist. 🙂

I’m torn about whether to open the doc up for everyone to read. It’s got all the normal warts and blemishes of any first novel, plus a few extra. Part of me wants to push all the way through and make it a real, physical book on Lulu or maybe make it an ebook, just to learn how that process works. We’ll see. Maybe that will be another 30 day challenge. 🙂

A new word a day for 30 days

This month’s 30 day challenge is to learn a word a day. Frankly, this month is sort of a “take it easy” month as I recover from last month’s challenge to write a novel and catch up on a bunch of different things. I’m using Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words as my source.

Some of the words I’ve picked up so far:

eoan: pertaining to the dawn or the east
dorty: bad-tempered
vega: a fertile meadow
rudas: an ugly foulmouthed old hag; a beldam. (adjective) coarse, foulmouthed.
deosculate: to kiss affectionately
brumous: misty, foggy
daggle: to soil by dragging in the mud
nixie: a letter so badly addressed that it can’t be delivered

Submit webmaster video questions for December 2010

NOTE: This set of questions is now closed. We got 500 questions in less than a week, and taped 70+ answers. Thanks!

It’s that time again! Next week I’ll record some new webmaster videos. I created a Google Moderator page where you can post questions or suggestions and vote topics up and down. I won’t be able to answer every single question, but I’ll tackle several popular ones plus a few of the more interesting questions. Please submit questions that lots of people would be interested in, not just a question about your specific site.

Just a reminder: please leave your question on the Google Moderator page, not in the comments here. When you leave a question on the moderator page, people can vote for the questions and I can see which questions people are most interested in.