Category Archives: Projects

30 Before 30 DONE: NaNoWriMo

I’ve been meaning to write a wrap-up on my NaNoWriMo effort for a while now but life has been pretty busy. In fact, I’ve since complete another 30 Before 30 goal, namely: seeing Singapore, a country I hadn’t visited before. But that post is for another time. Right now, I’m in Bangalore, India, recovering from the awesome Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, and the slightly less awesome stomach bug I had. I have a few hours to kill before my flight home, so I’m going to try catching up on blog posts.

So, I “won” NaNoWriMo this year! I wrote 50,005 words, meeting the 50k goal. My novel wasn’t actually finished at 50,005 words, but all the major plot points were covered, and there was only some filler left to write. Will I finish it? Well, maybe. It was plenty of fun to write and I learned a lot in the process – but quite frankly, it’s an awful novel. And even if I fixed it up, I couldn’t publish it, since it’s a fan-fiction and would be in breach of copyright.

The fan-fiction aspect makes me feel a little guilty. As some commentators have said, it’s lazy! And I’m inclined to agree: I had most of my characters and the universe they live in planned out for me. I did create some original characters and an island on which to play out the story, but the rest of it was Eiichiro Oda‘s work for One Piece.

I’m excusing myself on this occasion primarily because of my 30 Before 30 goal. I hadn’t written any fiction since high school and  none of the other story ideas I had were as well formed as my fan-fiction plot. Plus, this was the first and last chance I had to win NaNoWriMo before I turned thirty. Fan-fiction was the easiest way for me to write 50,000 words in thirty days – and it worked. Only 14% of the the approximately 250k participants achieved this goal in 2011, so it’s fair to say the odds were against me. It’s a little embarrassing, but fanfiction is what got me over the line.

2011 NaNoWriMo Progress Chart

Completing NaNoWriMo is hard – no doubt about it! My progress chart shows that it was touch-and-go for a while. Most of the writing was done on weekends, in 3000-4000 word chunks. There were also a number of interruptions, mainly in the form of medical treatment, that meant some days had no output at all. I also feel that I maintained a fairly normal social life, going out at least one night a week – although I’ve since been told things like “It’s nice to go out with you without you running away to finish your novel!”, so perhaps my social life wasn’t as full as I thought…

I wrote almost all of the novel in Google Docs on my iPad. This may seem painfully difficult to some readers but the trick is to write one-handed – the iPad on-screen keyboard is just the right size for one-handed typing. The way it handles Google Docs is still lacking, though. Word count features were disabled in mobile mode and desktop mode crashed frequently. But since I was reminded countless times that I should backup my novel, and because I wanted the freedom to write anywhere, writing on an iPad to a document backed up on the cloud worked well for me.

I’ve since heard a lot about software for novel writing (with useful features such as noting certain plot points to re-use later) which I might explore for future NaNoWriMos.

The Stats

Novel Title: Nijima Story
Genre: Adventure. One Piece fanfiction.
Writing software: Google Docs
Writing device: iPad (primarily)
Final word count (according to the NaNoWriMo validator): 50,005 words
Final word count (according to Google Docs): 50,803 words
Final page count (according to Google Docs): 97 A4 pages

 

The word count differences there are interesting. I learned that not all word counts were created equal. I’m just glad I picked up on this 4 days out from the end of November and not when I was finally submitting – thanks for the “procrastination tip” of testing your word count, NaNoWriMo team! Making up those extra 800 words in the last few days was crazy. I think the discrepancy happened because quite a few of my characters addressed others in the Japanese style, that is, adding a “-san” suffix to their names. My guess is that Google treated the hyphenated honorifics as extra words, while NaNoWriMo considered the name and honorific to be one word. The lesson there is to validate your word count against the NaNoWriMo counter every day.

Tips For First-Time Wrimos

Since NaNoWriMo ended, I’ve been told that I’m a rarity – a first-time participant that actually met the 50,000 word goal. There seem to be a few blog posts around about how to tackle NaNoWriMo (especially by the Office of Letters and Light, the organisation that runs NaNoWriMo every year), so I thought I’d describe what I think helped me win in 2011.

Have a well-formed plot before November
This is probably the number one reason for my success. The NaNoWriMo site says that while the novel should be written from scratch in November, prepared outlines and plot points are encouraged and can be written months before the event begins. I didn’t actually get around to writing down my outline before November, but I had been thinking about my plot for about six months. So I more-or-less had the complete story in my head, and it was just a matter of typing it out in thirty days. In hindsight, I wish I had written down a basic outline and some plot points, because I’m sure I had forgotten some of what I dreamt up before NaNoWriMo started. It wouldn’t have mattered for the word count, but I think my novel would have been a better story for some preparation.

Write every day
To reach the 50,000 goal, the daily target is 1,667 words. I didn’t strictly follow this rule myself – two days had no output at all, while another three or four gave only about 200 words – but even those extra 200 words helped my word count, and perhaps more importantly, it kept me thinking about my novel and my goal. Finding myself thinking about fictional characters in almost all my spare time was an interesting experience. Usually, if a project is occupying my attention for a long period of time, it’s related to work or my studies, for example: preparing for an exam for several weeks. But that is the real world. In November, I was focused on pure creation and imagination. All my spare time was thinking about a story; fleshing out details, wondering what would happen next, searching for the best language to describe a building or an outfit and – because of the fanfiction nature of my novel – gaining a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the One Piece universe. It was amazingly fun and I want to make sure I spend much more time on creative efforts like this in the future.

Tell everyone you know about your goal
Like any other goal you might have, you’ll feel more motivated when those around you know what you’re trying to do. They can also encourage you, or try and take external pressures off you – my friends understood when I turned down invitations to parties, for example. With luck, you might have the added bonus of finding friends who’ll try NaNoWriMo themselves (and getting more people to try something creative like this is always a good thing). On the downside, now everyone knows that I’ve written a novel and they want to read it! Not going to happen, people! It’s too awful!

Quantity, not quality!
This is a pretty common message to Wrimos but for good reason – it’s true. Don’t get hung up on whether what you’ve written is any good. Don’t edit. Do not edit! It takes up far too much time and will more likely reduce than increase your word count. Just write, write, WRITE! Yes, your plot will have more holes than a busted colander but that’s what the rest of the year is for! I was pretty good at avoiding editing for a while but I was definitely guilty of spending hours reading and re-reading what I had written, rather than using that time to write more. As you can see on my chart – any more editing and it could have meant failing to meet the word count.

What next?

So, now that it’s all over, what’s next? Well, to be honest, I haven’t even read my novel since NaNoWriMo finished. I want to “forget” as much of it as possible before I read it again, so I can have fresh eyes. I will probably finish writing that remaining filler and tying up the loose ends eventually. But then it’ll be safely stored away on a backup drive somewhere and forgotten completely until I find it accidentally in a decade’s time and cringe while I read my terrible writing! 🙂

I plan to write a lot more. I’ve really enjoyed this chance to focus on pure creativity. I plan to take part in next year’s NaNoWriMo too – I actually thought up the basic plot for my next story just after I had “won” this year’s event, heh. And the good news is: it’s not fanfiction! Until then, I’m going to read more novels (I have been reading almost exclusively pop science and business books for the last few years) so I can learn how to be a better fiction writer. It’s weird to think of it, but thanks to NaNoWriMo, I am now a novellist. I’d like to get to the point where I become a published novellist one day.

NaNoWriMo 2011

I wrote previously that one of my 30 Before 30 list items is to “win” NaNoWriMo. It’s described as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” which was probably all I needed to read to be hooked by the idea. I’ve signed up and am now one of the Wrimos.

NaNoWriMo is a creative challenge: write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in the month of November. Anyone who meets the word limit is considered a “winner”. The idea is to force participants to churn out content – quantity over quality – and not get caught up in editing or over-thinking whether it’s any good. Quite simply: it won’t be. It’ll be absolute rubbish. But by the end of it, participants will actually be novellists! They can worry about editing afterwards.

This November is my first and last chance to win NaNoWriMo before my 30th birthday. I’ve heard that very few first-time NaNoWriMo participants make the winners list. In fact, it seems to be low numbers overall: in 2010, only about 19% of participants met the 50,000 word goal. It’s going to be tough but I’m feeling pretty confident about winning. I’ve had a plot forming in my head for several months now and I seem to be churn out 500+ word blog posts without too much trouble.

Really, when I add my daily blogs, emails, comments, tweets and other social media posts together, I’m sure I average the 1600-odd words required daily to meet the target 50,000 in 30 days 🙂

Plus, this is going to be fun! Melbourne seems to have a good NaNoWriMo culture – the endless cafés probably help – and I know a few bookshops (including Of Science and Swords run by my friend Avi) that will be holding NaNoWriMo events. I’m looking forward to spending sunny November afternoons in Melbourne’s laneways typing away.

I’m going in prepared though. I’ll be spending the next day or two writing down the plot outline I have floating around in my head, and perhaps I’ll get a basic timeline down too. I’ll need to do a bit of research for a few plot points and I think that my storyline will be able to accommodate a few side stories, so if I need to top up my word count, I should have plot outlines for the side stories ready too. Overall, though, I’m feeling good about NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Participant

You know, before I decided that I would study and work in IT, I thought about journalism as a career. I’m glad I didn’t go ahead with it, especially now that I can see the state of both journalism and IT today. IT is a career that lets you be creative (including writing) but I still appreciate events like NaNoWriMo. It will be concentrated creativity: intense, caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived, inspired and potentially euphoric.

Literary abandon indeed.

30 Before 30

A colleague of mine recently mentioned that she had completed one of the items on her “30 Before 30” list. The idea of a 30 Before 30 list piqued my interest and I’ve spent the last few days putting mine together.

What constitutes a 30 Before 30 list seems to differ slightly from person to person. I’ve heard of lists that were thirty concerts or festivals to see before turning thirty years old, while another was thirty new things never tried before before reaching thirty. Yet another was thirty things to stop doing before the age of thirty.

My list is thirty things I’d like to achieve before turning thirty. These are a mix of new experiences, physical challenges, breaking bad habits or reaching a new level in something I’ve already done.

I won’t be sharing all of them, but here are some from my list:

#3 – Make all my meals for a month
I can cook and enjoy cooking, yet I almost always opt for a bought lunch over a homemade lunch while at work. So I’m aiming to cook every meal I eat for a month. No buying meals, especially lunches.

#5 – Get a motorcycle permit
I’ve wanted this since I was a teenager, but stuff always got in the way. I WILL MAKE THIS HAPPEN!

#6 – Sew myself an entire outfit
I’ve taken up sewing and crafting in the last few years. I want to see how good I am and try to make myself an entire outfit. It’ll give me the chance to have a more environmentally friendly wardrobe too, since I’ll be using organic fabrics.

#10 – Make a cheese
I eat so much of the stuff, I should try to make it sometime!

#14 – “Win” NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month is a fun exercise in creativity. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Because it’s such a large amount of text in such a small space of time, the focus is on quantity, not quality. It encourages people to write, write, write and not to get hung up on whether it’s any good. Anyone who can meet the 50,000 limit is considered a “winner”. I’m looking forward to it.

#19 – Make a five-course gourmet dinner for 6
Should be fun 🙂 Volunteers for the six spaces?

#21 – Visit a country I haven’t before
Completely selfish goal to find an excuse to travel some more!

#22 – Rollerblade across Singapore
I once heard about someone who did this. Apparently it only took them about 4 hours. Singapore is a small place! I also haven’t actually stepped foot outside the airport at Singapore, so this will probably tick off #21 as well, hehe.

#25 – Go skydiving
I used to think that I’d NEVER go skydiving, but now I want to try, heh. Never say never.

#28 – Climb Uluru
Pretty self-explanatory.

#30 – Visit Tokyo Tower
Despite the fact that I used to live in Yokohama, and have been back to Tokyo numerous times, I somehow never made it to the top of Tokyo Tower. But since I intend to spend my thirtieth birthday in Tokyo, I’ve decided to make this #30 on my list. Yay!

When I tick off any of the items, I’ll post about it here.

Monash Manga Library Database Project

The Monash Manga Library is part of the Japanese Studies Centre at Monash University in Clayton. I first started visiting the library in 2004 and became a volunteer staff member soon after that.

It’s run almost entirely by volunteers who have a lot of love for that place. We’ve all become friends and keep in touch long after we’ve graduated.

Image from the Monash Manga Library website

The database that the library runs on was also made by a volunteer…and while I know the best intentions were there, it really isn’t a great database. It is definitely not normalised and is missing some basic code – for example, code that could determine whether a library member can actually borrow any books, or when the books would be due.

Considering that the volunteer who designed it wasn’t an ICT student, they did a pretty good job of building that Access database. But at the moment, it can take up to 10 minutes to enter loans or returns. The database has corrupted over time and there are concerns that the library’s revenues and expenses aren’t being tracked properly.

I offered to build a new database for the library. We decided we would still use Microsoft Access because it was an interface all of the staff were already familiar with and because Monash University already holds software licenses for it. But beyond that, this database is set for a complete redesign.

I’m going to introduce barcodes into the library. Handheld USB scanners are cheap and easy to source. There’s also a wonderful barcoding program by IDAutomation that is free for educational or non-profit organisations. Introducing barcodes has meant that we’ve had to do a massive stocktake in the library. There are over 8000 items! They were all taken off the shelves, barcoded, their details recorded into the new, clean repository and then reshelved. That was a task-and-a-half but I remember when we added coloured ratings and author surnames to the book’s spines a few years ago. Similar situation! I think that the library just needs to fall into complete chaos like that every few years. Being surrounded by piles of books, paper and dust is good for the soul, hehehe!

Anyway, the database has taken a massive leap forward in recent weeks. There has been a little scope creep and my design has changed a little from the original plan. But since there’s only a year or so left before I have to say goodbye to the library and get stuck into a full-time career, I’m happy to change this database until it’s perfect and I can leave the manga library ticking over nicely to the next generation of volunteers.

Hopefully once I’ve finished the database and fully implemented it, I can post some screenshots and documentation here to show how the new system works. Monash University have shared some exciting news: the future database could be used as a reserch tool, which means that the Manga Library could receive more funding! That would be fantastic, since it’s such a great little library.

How to clean up my music collection?

I love music. It takes up a large portion of my life and I don’t exaggerate when I say that I couldn’t cope without it. And since I also love technology and have been an avid Internet user for about 13 years now – it makes sense that I have a LOT of digital music 🙂

The problem is that I never really kept it under control. There are MP3 files, OGG files, WAV files, WMA files and AAC files all spread out over 5 computers, hundreds of CD and DVD backups, my external hard drives and two iPods. Most of the files don’t have proper tags. There are plenty of “Unknown Title by Unknown Artist” songs or something equally vague.The files that do have some correct title and artist information often don’t have the album cover images embedded – which doesn’t fully utilise the beautiful interface on my iPod or other music programs.

Now, on top of this, I also own plenty of CDs that (believe it or not) haven’t yet been converted to digital format. I also have a small collection of vinyls and cassete tapes that I’d like to convert so I can enjoy them more often. Finally, since starting RADIO TOKYO, I really need to make my music collection as searchable, accessible and fully annotated as possible, so Ican prepare for the show quickly.

My music collection needs help! I’m not entirely sure how to go about cleaning it up, though. There are plenty of tagging programs out there, but not many of them are entirely accurate (especially with my Japanese CDs). There are others that can only tag newly-ripped music, not files that were already created. I’m fairly particular and will put a huge amount of attention to getting the details correct (heh, so why did I let my music collection get so unruly? I’ll put it down to sheer size and momentum of growth), so I don’t think I can accept the standard tagging programs.

MusicBrainz logoI’m a member of the MusicBrainz community (username MagdaStremeski) which is an open source database of music metadata. It relies on community members to create and update the records of music releases. Anyone can change the data but every change requires some ‘cool-down’ time, where other community members can query or vote for the changes. This means that changes made are -for the most part- very accurate. It’s an excellent open source project and it’s free.

So I’m sure that part of my solution will be the MusicBrainz tagging program, because I can always change the tags if I find a mistake, or create the release in MB if it isn’t already there. For the most part though, i think that even my Japanese music collection will be serviced quite well.

But I’m not sure that MusicBrainz will be enough. There are many ‘Unknown Title” tracks in my collection – aMusicIP logond quite often they’ve stayed that way because I really don’t know what the title is! There are a few music fingerprinting services out there – MusicIP is one that has partnered with MusicBrainz, so hopefully the services I can get will be integrated. Hopefully MusicIP can scan my collection and fill in the blanks.

I also need something that will rip the CDs I have and covert them. Yet another set of programs to investigate! But what format should I rip them to? iTunes uses AAC, which probably is a better quality format than MP3 but is really only useful in Apple products. OGG and FLAC compressions are higher quality still AND they’re open source.

But…hard drive space is growing bigger and cheaper every day. And I’ve done a little research on the various MP3 codecs – it doesn’t have to be a poorer quality sound. MP3 files are also accepted by my home and car stereo systems.

So perhaps I’ll re-rip all my CDs into high-quality Mp3s with a WAV backup, in case FLAC becomes more widespread. I’ll have to see what can be done about the AAC or originally low-quality MP3 files and what I can do with them.

I feel like I have all the pieces available to me for cleaning up and organising my music collection. I just have to have a closer look at processes and make sure that whatever method I use will give me my end goals without too much rework (especially manual rework).

If you have any suggestions for music ripping/identification/tagging programs, then please comment below!

RADIO TOKYO

Hajimemashite! RADIO TOKYO is starting soon!

I’ve joined the student radio station at Swinburne – 3SSR. I’m planning to start a radio show that I actually tried to do at Monash, but unfortunately their radio broadcasting facilities were non-existent at the time.

RADIO TOKYO logoSo I’m starting RADIO TOKYO at Swinburne! I plan to do a weekly 90 minute show featuring Japanese music. Japan has the second biggest music industry in the world but there is little Japanese music on the airwaves in Australia. Obviously language is a concern, but I’ve found that music is equally enjoyable even if the lyrics can’t be understood. Besides, quite a lot of Japanese artists will sing at least partially in English.

I’d also like to make a gig guide of all the Japanese-related events happening in Australia (but Melbourne in particular). Basically, the show’s content will be as the tag line says: “Japanese music, news, gigs and reviews”!

First show will be soon! It’s a little nerve-racking but mainly exciting! I can broadcast on the internet with 3SSR so I’m looking forward to having interstate and overseas friends tuning in.

Head over to the official RADIO TOKYO website. There’s also a MySpace page and a Last.fm profile. And stay tuned for the new show!