Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We need *you* to donate $1 to Singular Source *today*

We're into the final week of fundraising for the Singular Source short story contest and we're nearly there! We need only another $240 to make it to our goal.
 I feel a bit like NPR or PBS as I write this, but here goes...
We need *you*, yes, you sitting there at your computer to click on this link right now and donate $1 to our short story contest. $1 really does help. Not only does it move us closer to our goal, it also raises our activity level on Indiegogo, which in turn raises our visibility on their web site, and helps us to raise money site. We've come a long way and you can help push us over the top.

With full funding, we will have prize money for the winner, runner up, and third prize, plus a small honorarium for the judge. (I have lined up a very cool judge and will be blogging about this soon.) All of these people are artists who are writing for love. It's hard to become rich writing genre fiction. Help support art. Help support the commons.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wearing the Vibram Five Fingers

"Are they comfortable?" is the first question that people ask when they see my shoes. Surprisingly, it's not an easy question to answer. I've been wearing my Vibram Five Fingers for about two months now and they garner a lot of attention. I have had many conversations with friends and stranger about my shoes, so let me share my story.

At the beginning of the summer, I was downsizing and packing all the possessions in my house. This involved a lot of walking around the house, and going up and down the stairs, which I did in bare feet. When I started venturing out of the house again and wearing shoes, I started having back pain. I realized that my body was no longer used to wearing shoes. This was my big chance to try barefoot shoes. I had seen people in my yoga class with Five Fingers, and I had heard an interview with the author of, "Born to Run," a book about how shoes may be harming runners. One of the theories is that all the extra cushioning in running shoes encourages a more powerful heel strike, which leads to injuries.

So, back to the question, "Are they comfortable?" Yes. Very. Now.

Barefoot shoes provide almost no support. They're essentially soles with fabric to hold them on your feet. This is radically different from the shoes that we are used to wearing. If someone switched overnight from wearing runners to wearing high-heeled shoes, there would be no surprise that they would be uncomfortable. Even people who add orthotics to their shoes are told to start wearing them one hour per day and increase by an hour each day.

Even though I was used to going barefoot around the house, I wasn't used to walking down concrete sidewalks at high speed. I now walk with a shorter stride, use my knees earlier in the stride, and recruit many more muscles to reduce impact. The net result is I am developing an arch! My feet have been getting progressively flatter over the years and it's nice to see this trend reversing. I had seen some improvement from doing yoga, but this was much more dramatic. All in all, it seems to me to be a much healthier way of walking. They're very comfortable now and I have even run after my kids in them. I'm not looking forward to the cold weather then I need something with insulation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two donations to Singular Source: Cash and books, oh my

Great news! I have received two gifts that I will be putting towards prizes for Singular Source.

1. I have received a cash gift of $600 from an anonymous donor. I will be putting $500 of this towards first prize. The remaining $100 will be used for photocopying and postage.

2. Tor Books will be giving one copy of either "Fire Upon the Deep" or "Children of the Sky" to all three contest winners.

It's exciting to see this contest start coming together like this.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Looking for judges for Singular Source

Last week, I announced a science fiction short story contest, Singular Source. It's been keeping me busy, but it's been a lot of fun. I'm using parts of my brain that I haven't used in years.

In addition to publicity and raising money for prizes (please donate!), I'm looking for judges.

My goal is to have three judges. I'm assuming that I'm going to have a sufficiently large number of entries that three judges are warranted. For the three judges, I wanted to one with an academic background (a professor of something tech-related or literary or...), one published author, and one aspiring author. I wanted the professor, because the story will be published as part of an academic book. The published author will bring a professional eye/ear. Including the aspiring author will help build community, both to educate the aspiring author about what it's like to be a judge and to bring attention to a new voice.

I will likely end up being the academic judge. This seems appropriate, because I'm editing the book. If this is the case, I will not take an honorarium. Any money that I raise for honorariums will be divided among the other judges.

I've asked lots of published and aspiring authors and almost all have declined. (I do have one affirmative nibble that I'll announce in the coming days.) Among the people I've asked are Vernor Vinge, Greg Wilson, Kavita Philip, Daniel José Older, Karl Schroeder, Antoinette LaFarge, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Wil Wheaton. I've really enjoyed communicating with science fiction authors. They've all been really nice and actually took the time to answer the query. Although, they have all said "no," it's been a pleasure to come close to greatness.

Do you have any suggestions for who I should ask?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Donate to Singular Source

Last week, I announced a science fiction short story contest, Singular Source. Today, I'm going to write about the prizes and why donations are needed.

There are certain things in life that start out as a good idea and then they snowball. :)

When I started thinking about running a contest, I knew I could offer publication to the winner. I wasn't sure if I needed to offer cash as well. I asked around a bit, but I didn't get a good answer, as I don't have many writers in my social circles.

After talking to Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books, she made it clear that a cash prize would dramatically affect the quality of submissions. Writing fiction is a labour of love. I think it was Frederick Forsythe who said that you can't make a living writing, but you can make a killing. There are a few fiction writers who do extremely well (think Danielle Steel and John Grisham), but there are many more who are toiling away anonymously. We would need some cash prizes to make it worthwhile for people to enter.

Chris also said that the absolute minimum rate that professional authors receive is $0.03 per word. I did a quick calculation: 1 000-word short story would be paid $30. This seemed a pittance to me. Over the last year, I have looked into writing non-fiction magazine articles and doing freelance writing online. While these gigs pay enough to make a modest living, three cents a word is well below even these standards.

I realized that it was within my reach to make a real difference, not just to the winners, but to the science fiction writing community by offering significant prizes. I could have scraped up enough money to pay for some small prizes on my own, but running a fundraiser would get more people involved. This too would benefit the community by growing the pool of receptive readers.

So, I am running a campaign in IndieGoGo (we were rejected by kickstarter). I'm offering some fun gifts for contributing, such as acknowledgement in the book, glossy postcards, buttons, chapbooks, and the final hardcover book. Do me a favour and throw me a buck. It's a gift not just to me, but also to the literary arts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Announcement: Singular Source Short Story Contest

I have exciting news to share.

I am running a short story contest, called Singular Source. I am looking for hard science fiction stories about future programming in the presence of large source code archives. The winner will be published as the last chapter of our edited volume Finding Source Code on the Web for Remix and Reuse to be published by Springer Verlag in 2012.

We are funding the contest through an IndieGoGo campaign. Please consider contributing. Even a small amount will help.

It's common to end academic books with a speculative chapter, and what would be more speculative than a science fiction short story? I invited Vernor Vinge to submit a story, because I think the future might be the programmer archeologists that appeared in his novels, Fire Upon the Deep and Deepness in the Sky. Rather than writing software from scratch, people are taking pieces from existing systems and combining them. In this style of programming, knowing the archives is as important as the ability to put the pieces together.

Unfortunately, Vinge declined. However, he did give his blessing for a short story contest. So, here we are.

While this isn't my first literary competition, it has been a long time. I was once the Secretary of the Library Committee at Hart House, University of Toronto, which runs an annual short story contest.  Bear with me as I try to avoid making novice mistakes. Feedback is of course welcome. Chris  Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books has already set me straight on a number of aspects of the contest. Librarians, Annette and Kim, from the Merril Collection, have also provided helpful advice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Seeking participants for an iOS/scrum boot camp

Idea: I want to put a small group of us (6-ish?) in a room for a week and develop an app. There may or may not be an iOS expert among us. We'd be using scrum/lean techniques and the goal is for each person to learn something new. The purpose of the end product is to demonstrate what we have learned.

Motivation: I need to become proficient at iOS programming. So, I am using this as an opportunity for me to conduct an experiment in alternative models for teaching software development/design, by holding a "boot camp" on the topic.

Who: Programmers, graphic designers, UX designers, and domain experts with some software-related learning objectives. You don't have to be the best programmer or have any experience in iOS; you just have to be motivated and want to learn. For example, you might be a programmer, but always wanted to try your hand at project management. Or you might run a non-profit and want to learn how to give requirements for some software. Or you may be graphic designer who wants to get more involved in programming.

Who Not: This boot camp is not suitable for people who are expecting a lecture and well-crafted assignments. It is also not a for someone looking for free labour to develop the app that they have been planning for a long time.

Where: Toronto, either at a home in the Yonge/Lawrence area or at UofT

When: First week of August. I imagined this to be 4-5 days, 9-5-ish with lunch breaks. But if I get enough interest from people who have day jobs, we might do this over two weekends. I am also looking into the possibility of providing childcare for participants.

How: We will be working in pairs most, if not all, of the time. We'll be doing short (1-day) sprints. We'll work hard, but we'll have a sustainable pace. We will all be working on an app together-- I make no promises on the quality of the final product. The app itself with depend on the learning objectives of the participants, and we will decide together during the planning meetings.

Next Steps: Drop me an email (benevolentprof at gmail) to let me know you're interested. Tell me a bit about yourself, your availability, and what you'd like to learn at the boot camp. We'll have one or two meetings in advance to identify our collective goals for the boot camp and to do some scrum planning.