30 day challenge: being thankful and going offline

It’s been a while since I reported on any 30 day challenges, so it’s time for an update.

30 days of Being Thankful

I knew that January, February, and March would be crazy, including a bunch of stuff at work, traveling, plus several conferences. So I told myself it was okay to do only one 30 day challenge, and it was a pretty easy one. I decided to be thankful for one thing each day. I kept a list, so here are 30 things I’ve been thankful for recently:

– thankful for my wife, plus the fact that she’s a good cook.
– thankful for my family. No one’s crazy and we all love each other.
– thankful that I can afford to take time off with my wife this week for our 11 year anniversary
– thankful that my wife is funny and we laugh together
– thankful that an Android phone can be a powerful personal computer, and that Google Docs lets you edit a doc from Android.
– thankful for This Week in Google (TWiG) because they provide free techie podcasts that I listen to while I work out
– thankful for my cats, but especially for the furry orange one who likes to perch on me and sleep next to me.
– today I’m thankful for the other cat, the gray striped-y one who sometimes lounges on my legs and keeps me warm
– thankful for caffeine, which is helping me to work down my email backlog.
– thankful for my health. Glad to be over my whooping cough.
– thankful for an aisle seat on a plane, that the plane that landed on time, and fortuitously running into Googlers in the airport to share a cab with. But also thankful for beautiful snow in Washington D.C. that didn’t derail my travel plans.
– thankful for thoughtful discussions of how Google works and how to make it better
– thankful to be heading home from D.C.
– thankful for smart, effective, hard-working colleagues
– thankful for my bike
– thankful for exercise and my health. And for a long bath after an eight mile hike.
– thankful that my Aliph Jawbone Icon can be updated to A2DP, so I can listen to music on my Bluetooth earpiece with my Android phone
– thankful for sleep, but mainly because I haven’t gotten enough of it.
– thankful for the chance to vent with some smart people.
– thankful for good copy editing
– thankful for Data Liberation and my lockpick set.
– thankful for daffodils
– thankful for an empty locker room. It sounds silly, but it’s more fun to get dressed in an empty locker room than a crowded one.
– thankful that my best friend back in Kentucky keeps sending me cool stuff he’s writing for me to read
– thankful for Linux and Chrome: two great things that keep me productive and safe on the internet
– thankful to WIRED magazine for writing about topics I want to read about
– thankful for colleagues who come together to work on important things
– thankful to Kara Swisher for introducing me to Val Emmich’s song called “Get On With It,” which is great to work out to
– thankful for Daylight Savings Time so I can start biking into work again
– thankful to have had a fortunate life so far: I feel like I get to make a difference and be rewarded for it

I was looking back over the list and I realized that some of the things I’m thankful for are high-tech, but most aren’t. Which leads me to my next 30 day challenge…

30 days with no electricity

Okay, the stuff below was an April Fool’s joke. I’m still on the electricity!

I think sometimes we get caught up in the excitement of technology and the online world. We forget that there’s an entire world offline–a world of books, and visiting with people, and being active instead of sitting in a chair. So my next 30 day challenge, I’m going to turn off my internet connection and reconnect with the offline world. I’m turning off my cell phone and won’t answer any email. Instead, I’m going to visit with friends in person, catch up with family, and generally try to use as little technology as possible.

I’m even trying to minimize the electricity I’m using. For the next 30 days, I’m going to camp out in my backyard. This will be my home for the next 30 days:

30 day challenge: camp in the backyard!

I’ll still take showers indoors, since that doesn’t need electricity, but otherwise I’ll be getting up with the sun and going to bed when it gets dark. This will be a really difficult challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m heading offline after I publish this blog post, but I’ll let you know what I learned in 30 days!

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!

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

Report on 30 day challenge: A picture a day

In August 2010, my 30 day challenge was to take at least a picture a day. It was a good challenge, because that month I traveled with friends to Tanzania and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I finally got around to making a picture-a-day public photo gallery with the pictures I selected. Here’s one of my favorite photos of the rain forest near the base of Kilimanjaro, for example:

Rain forest at the base of Kilimanjaro

It took a while to pick the photos, upload them, and add captions, so I hope you enjoy the photos!