Maps, Rocks, and Places

Geography is about more than the capitals of countries you’ve never heard about.  Geography is about place, and anything that has a place is geography.  Geographers study the distribution and spread of disease.  They study how landforms are changed by the forces of man and nature.  They study the diffusion of slang terms.  They look at the distribution of particular styles of architecture within a community as a surrogate for the origin and culture of the people who live there.  Anything that has a place or a distribution in space is fair game.  Geography is about us and our world.  And most of all, geography is about maps.  Beautiful maps.

Geography is deep in our roots at the Turtlshel Project.  Come in and find out more than you ever knew there was.  And maps.  Beautiful maps.

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Nerd Fashion

Sometimes there’s just nothing better than jeans and a pair of Chucks.  Or a good jacket.  A fine Oxford shirt.  Or a bow tie.  Bow ties are cool.  We’re not high fashion here – we just like to look and feel good.

[image courtesy of Steven Guzzardi on]
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Learn Something New, Be Something More

Version 3.1 of YOU is just around the corner.  Maybe they’ll be announcing it at the next MicroApple Developers’ Conference.  I wonder what kind of FEATURES it will have.  Maybe a new degree, or a bunch of new skills?  Or maybe YOU 3.1 is just totally badass.  Upgrading YOU is up to YOU.  Be what you want to be.

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Introducing Nerd Q&A

You have questions.  You do, really, I promise.  Or somebody had a question.  We have answers.  Lots of answers.  We have answers in search of questions.  We have answers in search of answers.  We even have answers that like foreign films and long walks on the beach.

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Thank You, Microsoft For Giving Me a Reason (Minecraft) to Teach My Children to Hate You

Thank You, Microsoft For Giving Me a Reason (Minecraft) to Teach My Children to Hate You

If you haven’t heard, Microsoft is buying Mojang, the creators of the insanely popular Minecraft open-world creation game.  My children love Minecraft.  They fight over who gets what device, and then when settled spend hours playing with each other an an enormous creative world.  These are children who will not get along for anything.  They love Minecraft.  Sometimes all they talk about is Minecraft.  But it gets them talking.  To each other.  For that reason, if for no other, I love Minecraft.  And yet the game itself is a ton of fun (which I discovered for myself during my annual vacation this last summer).

So the news that Microsoft is buying Mojang?  Horrible.  I come from the generation that couldn’t spell the name without dollar signs.  Micro$oft was my generation’s Babylon the Great, Whore of All the Earth.  The Enemy.  The Man.  The primary justification for the existence of Linux.  And then, about the time my kids came along, Microsoft just wasn’t that important anymore.  They had much more competition, and were even struggling to keep relevant in a new age.  I thought that the undying hate might actually die with me, and my children would grow up in a world of peace.  But today that all ends.  Children, meet the enemy from Redmond.

Disclaimer Note: I have grown up some since my youth, and in spite the tone of my comments above (which carries more of the anger of my children than of my own), am not an outright opponent of Microsoft.  I use Windows (reluctantly) at work, and even have a Windows partition somewhere on my laptop for those few things (Adobe Illustrator) that just won’t run in Linux.  If I had to say, these days I am rather ambivalent about the whole thing.  But Mr. Satya Nadella is making quite a statement buying Mojang, and has the opportunity to absolutely piss off an entire generation of children if Microsoft gets this wrong (like they seem to have largely done with acquisitions in the past).

Copyright Note: The featured image is posted all around as a Creative Commons image, but I have not yet been able to find an original source or author.  If you know where it came from, please point me in the right direction.  Thanks.

Today is the Last Day to Tell the FCC How You Feel About Net Neutrality

Today is the Last Day to Tell the FCC How You Feel About Net Neutrality

Today is the last day to submit online comments to the FCC on Net neutrality!  I have intended for a couple of weeks to submit comments to the FCC on how I feel about Net neutrality, and its upcoming rule-making upholding the ability of Internet Service Providers to slow down access to services that don’t pay extra fees to stay fast.  What does this mean?  It means that without a ruling in favor of Net neutrality, even though I pay a lot every month for high-speed internet access that is an order of magnitude or two faster than the national average, if I site I like doesn’t pay the V*****n [name of big-name ISP censored because my legal defense fund is small] tax, my access to it will be slow.  Even if they are paying their ISP for high-speed access as well.  Make sure you submit comments.

Here is the comment letter I submitted:

Dear FCC,

I’m James White and I live in Wenatchee, WA.


Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data that travels over their networks equally, is important to me because without it ISPs could have too much power to determine my Internet experience by providing better access to some services but not others.


A pay-­to-play Internet worries me because ISPs could act as the gatekeepers to their subscribers.


We have, as a nation, decided that the right to free speech, and the right to assembly when and how we wish are important enough to notify, uphold, and defend. And yet, with the strong push that we have made together over the last several decades to move the assembling and the speaking onto the various channels of the Internet, those fundamental American freedoms are at risk. When ISPs have a direct hand in determining which services I have easy access to, and which I don’t, on the whim of arbitrary fees, even when I have paid my own ISP for high speed access to those services, my choices of when and where I can assemble on the Internet, and what I can say there, are endangered.


Without Net neutrality, we in this generation and Americans in future generations are in danger of having the places, the times, the methods, and the topics of their assembly and speech dictated by the chance of which venue was able to pay enough to stay in the fast lanes, and which were not.




James White
[My Address Removed]

These comments are a matter of public record and are viewable online one day after being submitted to the FCC public docket. You will have the option to edit the letter before submitting.

Don’t forget to comment.


No Internet Creative Commons image courtesy of Marcelo Graciolli


How to Write a Spy Novel: Various Resources from Around the Web

How to Write a Spy Novel: Various Resources from Around the Web

This spring, as a break from the madness of NaNoWriMo, I decided that I was going to write a spy novel. Fresh from reading Olen Steinhauer’s Milo Weaver trilogy (The Tourist, The Nearest Exit, and An American Spy), all of which I loved, my head was full of ideas for how I would approach the genre. I dove head first into plotting and writing. I didn’t finish. In fact, I didn’t really get much further than a completed outline and some character profiles.

Some day I may actually finish my novel about a newly hired spatial analyst working for the diplomatic service in Minsk, Belarus who is plunged into the world of covert intelligence operations when his Ukrainian girlfriend, who turns out to be a foreign agent, tries to murder him. Until then, I have a number of resources I found in the process of putting together my ideas. Maybe they will be useful for you.  I know there are books and classes and other things out there that probably put all of this into a formula or framework or something that makes sense as a whole system and that you don’t have to put together yourself, but these are free resources.  Beggars and all that.


How to Write a Fight Scene

I know from writing The Paper Sword that writing a good fight scene is really hard. Actually, writing a bad fight scene is hard too. Throwing all of your characters into a heap and making sure the right ones walk away with the right amount of damage, and making it even semi-believable is an incredible challenge. Add on to that the fact that real fights are horrible, messy, violent, awkward things, and do not make for good prose, and my level of admiration for writers of great fight scenes just soars. In putting together the outline for my spy novel, I found several resources that would probably be helpful regardless of what genre you are writing (I know that I wish I had seen these when I was writing The Paper Sword).

Does Your Fight Scene Pack a Punch?
Main Point: Instead of scripting out the fight scene like you are writing directions for the stage or for film, concentrate on the emotional impact to the viewpoint character.

How to Write Fight Scenes
Main Points: Make opponents give the hero a challenge; make the fight real; consider your words carefully; develop a style that works for you; and make sure to show the effects of the fight afterwards.

How to Fight Write
Main Points: This one was a really helpful resource – an entire site with hints, tips, and resources for writing fight scenes. Useful information includes things to avoid/deadly sins, five simple ways to write convincing fight scenes (this is one of my favorites out of all of the fight scene resources), various types of attack (open hand, kicks, fists, elbows and knees, etc.), blocks, and much more. If you had to go to only one place, this should be it.

How to Write a Kick-Ass Fight Scene
Main Points: Describes three types of fight scene writers. Didn’t find this one as useful, but maybe you will.

Ten Tips for Writing Great Fight Scenes
Main Points: Although fairly short, this is another of the gems. Touches many of the points the others make, like concentrating on the consequences of violence, but also adds some novel points (e.g. Realism is cool, but not all important, and equal opponents should be saved for special occasions).

R.A. Salvatore on How to Write a Damn Good Fight Scene
Main Points: This one is out of the genre (R.A. Salvatore is a fantasy writer), but it is an interview with a master of writing fight scenes. And in the end, it’s all words anyway.

Pow! Boom! Ka-Pow! 5 Tips to Write Fight Scenes
Main Points: Bonus points to this one for placing “Read” as number one on the list. Extra bonus points for directing readers to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.

How to Write a Fight Scene
Main Points: This one is a list and summary of a bunch of different resources, including a few of the ones I have listed here. Goes beyond action/thriller/espionage genres.

Here’s How to Write a Damn Good Fight Scene
Main Points: The best tip here is to use verbs instead of adverbs (e.g. pounded instead of hit very hard).


How to Write a Spy Novel

Writing Spy Fiction with an Unputdownable Plot
Summary: Principles for plot development for spy fiction.

The Art of Espionage Fiction with Former Spy Gene Coyle
Summary: Preparing the plot outline for my novel, I started to get discouraged, realizing that many of the current best selling espionage writers worked in the intelligence machine or were somehow involved. Did that mean I couldn’t write a good spy novel because I work for a non-profit and run a Web site in my spare time? Shoot, I’m not even really an author except during November each year. This audio interview and transcript with Gene Coyle helped me with that. One of the things he said really stuck with me.

“You gotta tell a good yarn. And you have to make the characters interesting, so that the reader feels like they know them. What makes for a good spy novel—or any fictional novel—is if the characters in the story, by the end of the book you feel, “I’ve actually known this fellow.” And you actually care what’s going to happen to him or her.”

Spy novel or not, a story is a story. This one just happens to have particular conventions. If the readers believe it, does it matter if it’s real?

Spy Novelist David Ignatius Describes His Four Favorite Spy Cities
A good resource – got me thinking a lot about setting as a character, especially in this genre.

The Spy Novel as Genre
My piano teacher always told me you have to know the rules and know how to operate creatively within the rules before you are qualified to artistically break the rules. Break the rules without knowing the rules isn’t creativity – it’s called fumbling around with hardly a clue hoping something works out. It’s amateurism.

This is a Tour: Resources for Writing Espionage
A good collection of resources, some of which are listed here already.


Character/Name/Whatever Generators for the Real World

I have an entire collection of generators that I like and use frequently when writing in my Tciona world, but I had to actively search for resources that provided realistic real-world names and details. Maybe this is an instance of the uncanny valley, but most of the real-world generators that I found produced names and characters that were way too artificial. Parents agonize (at least most parents I have ever known) over the names of their children, trying to match their hopes for the new child with family beliefs and traditions and popular trends. A child’s name is a stamp of history, hope, and intent, and is very much a non-random thing. Random generators produce results that are probably not truly random in the mathematical sense, but certainly don’t have the same depth of meaning that real names do. There are a lot of generators out there, and I spent hours trying them out.  Most of them were crap.  At least for what I was looking for.  Here are the ones I hated the least.

Random Teen Generator

Corporation Generator
Some of the names are really stupid, but there are some great gems.

Character Cast Generator

Quick Character Generator

Location and Setting Generators

Quick Character Generator
I remixed results from this generator with ages and jobs I already had in mind to create several of my characters.

Murder Mystery Victim Generator

Character Motivation Generator

Basic Character Appearance Generator

Character Flaws and Weaknesses Generator

Character Interests Generator


Writing Non-Stupid, Non-Boring Sex Scenes

I really think that this is the kind of thing that is very largely about personal taste (or complete lack of it). I think of Katsuki, one of the main characters from the manga Katsu!, who when asked what kind of pornography he prefers answered that he liked pictures where you could kindof see, but kindof not see. For me, the most effective and sex in fiction lets you know what happened and how it affected who, and the emotions and results involved, without actually telling you what happened. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Is a good example of this. Greg Mathews (e.g. Little Red Rooster) is probably an example of the opposite but the same, where you get every detail and then how it affects each character and the story emotionally. So take these resources (presented really without comment because of the somewhat subjective nature and my own preferences on the subject) as you will. UPDATE: The Bond novels also do a pretty good job of being sexy and sexual without the actual sex.

How to Write About Sex Without Being Boring

How to Write a Sex Scene

How to Write a Good Sex Scene

How to Write a Sex Scene

Twenty Steps to Writing Great Love Scenes

How to Write Sex Scenes When You’re a Prude with Misha Crews
Warning: I know I said I wouldn’t comment, but just a warning that this is a romance-novel-centric source. You have been warned.

So You Want To: Write A Sex Scene

How to Write Sex Scenes: The 12-Step Program


Other Stuff

Espionage Tropes
A really great list of all the things that make espionage fiction what it is. Use this list to make sure you aren’t just like everything else out there. Or maybe use this list to make sure you fight perfectly into the genre. Or use the list to wrap fish in. It’s all up to you.

11 Character Flaws to Use in Your Script Right Now
The character profile template I use has an entire section to develop character flaws. This was one of the resources I used to create a pick-list to fill that section out.

Archetypes that Make Your Story Resonate
Spy fiction makes strong use of several archetypes.

Outline Your Novel in 30 Minutes
Outlining/plot development is actually one of my strong areas. The biggest problem is that I tend to get very detailed before I’ve written anything. Because this was supposed to be a relaxing side project, I wanted to get my outline down quickly and get to writing. This page helped.

So You Want to Have an Attractive Character
I have read characters that I absolutely fell in love with. There is at least one that I read as a young teenager that I probably still have a crush on. And yet it is interesting how sometimes the harder you try to write a character that is irresistible, the more flat that character seems. This page gives some tips. Not silver bullets, but helpful all the same.

Mindsets and Rationales that Lend Well to Villainy
Because the biggest thing I always thought watching Bond movies growing up was “What in the world would cause someone to self-identify as a villain?” I mean, really, are there just some people who aspire to being really bad? Are there people who think villain means hero and they just haven’t gotten the Webster memo yet? This page describes some of the mindsets that villains might have.

Generate Your Own Spy Novel Title
Because they’re all named the same anyway.

Mad Lib Thriller Title Generator
Same reason.

Who are the Master Spy Novelists?
See the tip above that the first step is writing better is to read.



CC-License: CC BY
Photo: Markus Spiske /



Nike’s Football’s New Commercials Are Awesome

Ok, so maybe these aren’t incredibly new.  In fact, it looks like these are from before the World Cup.  Which sucks just a little bit – I came across these on accident tonight (like a lot of the stuff I post here), and thought “wow, way to go Nike for supporting the sport even when the World Cup is over.  How unlike most of the rest of the soccer “fans” in the United States.”  Turns out this was before the Cup.  They are still totally awesome.  My favorite of the lot is “Winner Stays,” posted above, but they are all really good.  Makes me wish I was out playing…

My Current Favorite Song – Mamas Gun’s “On a String”

“On a String” by Mamas Gun is probably my favorite song last night.  It reminds me of listing to music with my dad every Sunday night after dinner.  We lay on our backs in front of the stereo cabinet with headphones on, listing for cool things in the music.  Dad would point out some cool drum beat or an awesome section where the drums dropped out.  He would move the needle back and we would listen to the same part again.  I learned to love texture and depth in music from my dad.  This song by Mamas Guns has that feeling.

Like many of my favorite songs, I found this one by accident.  I like to make stations from songs I like, and then anything that comes up that I like, in addition to thumbs-upping, I add to my Current Rotation playlist.  “On a String” was one of those finds.  My current list is called New Current.  If you are on you should check it out.

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