Friday, October 24, 2014

"With Polish" Is Online!

My flash fiction piece "With Polish" is online today as Every Day Fiction's story of the day!

You can read it here.

"With Polish" is actually the inspiration for a much larger project that I have stuffed away for when I'm done with my current WIP. It's ended up nothing like the short story, but I wouldn't have been able to get there without writing this. So, even if it's mostly a stepping stone, I still think it's important.

Monday, October 20, 2014

First Time Publication

Have I said that I'm going to be a published author soon? Yeah, I maybe neglected to mention that...

On Friday, October 24th, my story "With Polish" will be featured as the story of the day at Which is really exciting. I'm going to be paid and everything for it. Late September they gave me the notice and I freaked out and spent the rest of the day doing last-minute tweaks because they said I could.

I know that while it's not "officially" a part of Every Day Fiction's Halloween lineup, which starts the 27th, but I like to think that maybe the timing of publication has to do with it being a little spooky? I don't know.

Anyway, I'll be sure to post a link when it's live!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bonsai Diary #2

I know it's only the second day of having the tiny tree but something very exciting happened.

The bonsai's first bloom.

I've heard that cutting off the flowers the day after they bloom encourages grewias to flower more, but I think I will hold off on any kind of alteration and just enjoy it as is.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bonsai Diary #1

I am now in possession of an itty bitty tree. Well, it's not a tree, exactly. It's a Grewia occidentalis,a lavender star flower grewia which is more of a shrub, but it's been trained thus far to look like a tree.

I've also acquired a planter, some tropical bonsai soil, and some gravel for the tree. However I do not want to transplant it yet.  I am, with all luck, moving this Thursday. Probably this stress on me is also stress on the tree, so I'm waiting for now. I also want to make sure that it doesn't die. I am notoriously bad at keeping plants.

The aforementioned itty bitty tree
In fact, I've tried to grow a bonsai once before. It was an Australian bottlebrush and the kit I bought required you to grow them from seed. Australian bottlebrush trees don't germinate right away, though. They need to go through a dormancy period of simulated winter. The kit recommended doing this at the coldest part of your refrigerator and for me that happened to be the meat and cheeses drawer. I followed the kit's instructions, and someone in the house knocked it over and scattered the dirt and seeds all over the cheese. They threw everything out out while cleaning out the drawer, and that was the end of that. I killed my bonsai before it even sprouted.

Fortunately this bonsai is already sprouted and fairly tall and, better still, a tropical plant so I don't have to worry about any dormancy period care.

The current plan is to keep the plant watered and keep pruning the dead leaves off and transplant after the move. Then, in a few months, once it's recovered, I can break out the wire and start trying to train it. Considering the plant already has a slight slant to it, I'm planning on aiming for a slanted-style bonsai.

This is assuming the plant survives the week. If it actually does, I'll give it a name.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Deep Web Sharing: Avoiding Google

There are many reasons you might want to avoid having your work from a search engine. A big reason for many writers is to protect their first publication rights*. Maybe you don't want the work attached to your name when applying for jobs. Maybe you don't want work attached and easily searchable by you or your username forever and ever because you're easily embarrassed by your old work. Or you might just be an intensely private person and just not want anything you can avoid associated with you to show up on Google.

To avoid showing up on legitimate search engines, you need to avoid your page being indexed by a crawler, a program run by a search engine to find webpages. Crawlers click through links and index any page they find, keeping track of words, images, and links within. When someone tries to search for that page or similar content, the page is already indexed and can be shown as results. Websites that can be accessed through search are called the "surface web."  Despite the vast, vast number of hits any given search will bring up in Google or Bing, very little of the internet is actually indexed. Any part of the internet that is not a part of the surface web is called the "deep web".

Despite the scary name, you probably access parts of the deep web all the time. Your emails are stored on the deep web. Every time you access bank accounts or post on your blog, you're accessing the deep web, because you're using a page that is inaccessible without certain passwords. Many websites will also dynamically generate pages for individual requests, as in a Google search, which can't be indexed either. Many organizations have internal pages that are protected from crawlers and many websites are not crawled by disallowing bots through recaptcha and other preventative measures.

What this means for you, as a writer, is that as long as you share online work on the internet through the deep web, it cannot be found by crawlers. So, how can you share your work and keep it on the deep web?

Password Protected Options:

1. Emails
Sending work personally to others through emails will only allow those who have the username/password combination of the email address you sent the work to view it. Crawlers cannot get past this protection.

2. Password Protected Forums

As with emails, forums that are password protected cannot be crawled despite seeming public and able to be viewed by a wide audience. Forums like Critique Circle are completely password protected to allow users to post work and certain sections of other sites like Absolute Write's forums are password protected for the purpose of sharing work.

3. "Friends Only" Blog Posts

A blog post that requires special permissions to view, like "friends only" posts on many services, cannot be crawled and indexed due to password protection.  However, changing the permissions from public to private will likely keep an indexed, cached version of the page on search engines. Make sure the permissions are set correctly before posting.

4. Cloud Sharing Through Email

Many cloud services like Evernote and Copy allow you to send permissions to view files to certain email addresses. These can be very convenient because it allows readers to view changes as they happen without requiring you to send a new file.

Non-Password Protected Options:

5. Direct Links from Cloud Sharing

Many cloud services like Evernote and Copy also allow you to generate a link to your content that you can share with others. As long as this link is not linked to from the surface web, it will remain in the deep web, meaning that you can share it through emails, chat clients, etc., while the content remains private.

6. Direct Links from Text Posting Services

Text posting sites like TinyPaste have private options that do not create links to text on their websites, preventing them from being indexed. As with blog posts, make sure that the privacy settings are set correctly before posting. These services also often allow you to set a password. By creating a password and posting the link and password publicly, your page can easily be viewed by humans but not crawlers.

*Much advice I've seen about first publication rights and the internet advise that to post online and protect first publication rights you must use password protection. While the latter two options do not use password protection, they are unable to be crawled and, if the links are only shared with a few people, can hardly be considered public. If you are concerned about your first publication rights, do your research. Here's a good place to start. I am not a lawyer and not qualified to give legal advice.

These are all methods I've used to keep my work from web crawlers -- I'm sure there are many more. If there's a big, simple one I've missed, feel free to post in the comments. Either way, have fun being secretive!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"The Town We Do Not Speak Of" Tea Sampler Set

I'm a big fan of Welcome to Night Vale even though I'm not completely caught up with the episodes yet. And I also really like tea. So the "The Town We Do Not Speak Of" Tea Sampler Set set at Adagio seemed relevant to my interests.

As many fans of WTNV know, Commonplace Books has a policy against selling unofficial merchandise -- eg, fan art prints, individual costumes, things like that that are in a legal gray area that larger copyright holders don't bother to prosecute or even look at. WTNV is a very small yet very popular venture and can use all the money they can get. I totally respect that.

Fortunately, Joseph Fink himself has signed off on the creation of "The Town We Do Not Speak Of" tea as long as it uses neither the WTNV logo nor the words "Night Vale" in them, which is the reason for the fancy-pants name of the sampler. So, we can enjoy this tea relatively guilt-free -- though if you want to support WTNV financially you should still either donate or buy their merch on their official site, Commonplace Books.

Anyway, the actual tea. The sampler set comes with six nice tins with pretty label stickers on the top. Adagio says that each tin contains approximately 5 servings of tea, so the whole set is about 30 cups of tea total. The set has 4 black teas (Perfect Carlos, Sheriff's Secret Police, Steve Carlsburg, and The Weather) and 2 green/white teas (Glow Cloud, Cecil [The Voice]). Because a lot of the black teas have some green in them the brewing temperatures are slightly lower than boiling, but for the most part I do not think it matters much. The teas that have no black in them do need care to not use boiling water with them, though.

As for the individual teas:

Cecil [The Voice]: I… am not sure about this tea. There's a bit of citrus in it and it smells spicy. I brewed this one twice before writing anything down because there were so many good reviews on the adagio website, because white/green teas are delicate and I thought I was brewing it wrong. While the smell in the box is interesting I found the taste of the actual tea to be pretty weak and bland.

Glow Cloud: Green, slightly fruity, satisfying without any additives. I really like this one, would definitely buy again. Probably my favorite of the samples. There's nothing else to say. All hail. ALL HAIL.

The Weather: Coconut is not my favorite thing but for some reason this tea is pleasant. I'm not sure if the sprinkles actually added anything but they were kind of cute. Anyway, while this tea tastes fine it actually looks very pretty, like confetti.

Steve Carlsburg: I'm usually not into black fruit teas but because this one is grapefruit I love it. I would not think that grapefruit, apple, and vanilla of all things go together but they really do. It's fine plain but you can't really tell there's any apple in there without any sugar. I'm usually not a fan of hibiscus either but in this tea you can't taste it. It's dominantly grapefruit and leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, the jerk.

Sheriff's Secret Police: Okay, after smelling this one, I really expected to like this one more than I do. It smells amazing and spicy, but brewed it tastes kind of coffee-like, almost. It's more dominantly smoky/bitter than spicy. It's still good with cream and sugar. This tea has mate in it, so it's more heavily caffeinated than normal tea and a good number of those pieces fell through my tea strainer. If you can't deal with large amounts of caffeine or bits in your tea I wouldn't recommend it.

Perfect Carlos: "Perfect". A sweet and pleasant dessert tea that's dominantly chocolate with no surprises, really. Good with cream and sugar. I can't really think of anything bad to say about it except that compared to the others it's a bit boring.

There are teas in this set that I would definitely buy again and some that I wouldn't. However the fandom teas on Adagio are kind of pricey and I still find myself drinking mostly the assam in my cupboard rather than reaching for these. The tins are cute though, so I don't regret buying them. I just have to remember I have them and that I should not be "saving them for later" because tea does go bad.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recipe: Millet Fritters with Spinach and Cheese

I like food. I really like cheap food. I also like food that tastes good and is good for you, but most of the times when I'm making stuff the "cheap" wins out. Of the wide assortment of weird exotic grains that they're telling you to eat because they're "good for you" whole grains, one of the least expensive is millet. It's still about 10 cents more per serving than brown rice but compared to quinoa and amaranth it's still damn cheap. Also, at least in my opinion, millet tastes better, especially when fried. Even if it's mostly associated with animal feed, it's worth giving a chance.

With a lot of health food recipes I've seen, there's a call for other exotic ingredients to go along with the weird grain that may themselves be expensive. Like, what the hell is halloumi? Where am I supposed to get it? This recipe, aside from the millet itself, uses very common ingredients that you probably have on-hand. So, give it a try:

The fritters (left) as part of a bento. 

1 cup dry millet
2 cups water
1 bullion cube (either chicken or vegetable flavor)
3 eggs
1 medium onion
1/2 cup spinach, frozen
minced garlic to taste
pinch of salt
olive oil
mozzarella cheese (optional)

1. Cook the millet using the two cups of water and the bullion cube. I have a rice cooker so I used that and set it to the "brown rice" setting. If you don't have a rice cooker, use the directions on the back of the packaging or online directions if you bought in bulk.

2. Lay out the millet in a sheet to cool off -- about 30 minutes

 3. While that's happening, dice your onion as small as you can. Thaw your spinach and break it up into pieces.

3. Crack open three eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat until mixed. Add the millet, onion, and spinach, and mix well. Then add the garlic and salt.

4. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time until you find that the mixture just sticks together well enough to form patties. They don't have to be big patties, about the size of a bottom of a drinking glass.

5. Heat up some olive oil in a pan with a lid on medium-low heat. Add the patties, making sure they don't touch, and cover, cooking for 5 minutes. Uncover and flip the patties over, cooking for another 5 minutes

6. Stick a fork in 'er, she's done. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese if desired. These keep a few days in the refrigerator.