29 Jun 2015

NaNoPrep 2015 - Another Contender

A few weeks ago, I posted some ideas for this NaNoWriMo this November.  It will be my tenth go at the event, and, as such, I want to have an idea ready to go once midnight strikes.  I may have another contender.  A tablet died recently, but I was able to pull off the files I had on it, including a story I was working on during bus rides.  Writing on a tablet is a pain; typing speed is limited on a virtual keyboard and it's difficult to keep track of what's been written already.  However, the kernel of a story still got made, and it has been found.

Some background notes first.  The story is set in Thunder Bay, at Lakehead University.  Why?  Why not?  Plus, Thunder Bay is somewhat isolated compared to Eastern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area.  The isolation helps both the characters and their opposition.  Sure, there are smaller towns around, but beyond those are the Canadian Shield and Northern Ontario*.  The idea is a mystery series, featuring the core cast, who are mostly in their third year of university.

The Cast:
Dani, third year student majoring in Geoarchaeology.  A redhead who loves the outdoors.
Hunter, first year student in General Arts as she tries to find what she wants to do.  Light brunette, got assigned to the dorm through administrative error and lack of space.
Mia, third year student in Business aiming for a Bachelor of Commerce.  Brunette, two years younger than her classmates after being bumped in grade twice when younger, parents very protective but in Toronto.
Tillie, third year student in Political Science.  Blonde, mechanically inclined, comes from a large family.

And the teaser.  It's not the full document I was working on, just the hook.  There are issues with some of the work, related to trying to write on a tablet, but the beginning went the way I wanted.
Hunter raised her head, struggling to get a coherent thought through the fog wisping through memory fragments.  A single harsh light bulb spotlighted the young woman, letting Hunter see the bare concrete beneath her bare feet and the rough rope tying her legs together.  A wisp of her light brown hair fell in front of her eyes.  She was dimly aware of her arms bound behind her, her fingers a distant tingle.  Her mouth was dry thanks to the cloth balled up inside her mouth and held in place.  Hunter gave her head a shake and regretted it immediately.  A throbbing ache echoed through her head.  She let her head fall back down.

Hearing the lock to her miserable prison click, Hunter glanced up.  In the gloom beyond her circle of light, the door swung open. The young woman saw two grey forms stand just past the doorway.  She glared at the two.

One of the grey figures smacked the other, taller one on the back of the head.  "You moron!  You grabbed the wrong girl!"
That should keep a few readers' attention.  For NaNo, any work I do prior to November won't count towards the total words written.  I'll still have to write 50 000 words in November to get a proper "win", but cleaning up a few paragraphs won't make a big difference, and, in the worst case, I can just rewrite those in November.

* "Six people live in Northern Ontario.  All of them are named Fred, including the girl.  She can be found in the phone book under 'Girl, The'." - Arrogant Worms, live with the Edmonton Philharmonic.

26 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night In Canada - Chapter 7

"Leave her alone!"
"I want her and her friends arrested!"
"I'm in witness protection!  I can't take that chance!"
"We have until Friday."

Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 7 - Bishop to Queen's Level Two

Laura didn't try to stifle her yawn as she approached Mr. Baker's classroom.  Her roommates, tired of her complaints about the early hour, tossed her out before she could even make coffee.  She stopped in front of the doorway; the door was already open.  Mr. Baker sat at his desk, marking.  Laura almost obeyed the urge to run, but steeled herself.  She knocked on the door.  "Mr. Baker?"

Mr. Baker looked up from his work.  "Ah, Laura, yes?"

"Yes, sir.  Are you busy?  I can come back."

25 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night in Canada Chapter 6 - Commentary

The Unrulies went deep into that classic teen hangout, the mall.  Welcome to the commentary for "Mall Trawl".  Please read the chapter first before continuing.

For once, I have a real location.  Oshawa Centre is a real place, with real stores and a real website.  Why use a real mall instead of creating my own?  First, the real mall already exists, with stores and a map, saving me time.  Second, malls are huge; I didn't want to just drop a mall on some residential area and squish the people who live there.  Third, malls are landmarks; just as I wouldn't create a stand-in for the CN Tower in Toronto, I wouldn't create a mall when readers may want to find it*.

Caitlin's odd reference come from the Farley Mowat novel, Never Cry Wolf.  Mowat described how caibou could recognize the different postures of wolves, whether the wolf is just passing through or is on the hunt.  The girls of the Gephardt Academy have learned something similar.  A friendly stance allows them to not spook crowds too much, which is handy when they need to get groceries or school supplies.  Doesn't mean the people around them aren't nervous, doubly so when a group from St. Dymphna is around.  Laura, being new, hasn't picked up on all of the subtle bits of being one of the Unrulies.  She's getting on-the-job training.

Dylan has the honour of the first male character of the Unrulies' age to appear and be named.  It's only taken nineteen chapters, counting all of The New Girl and The Great Jennifer Round-Up, to get to this point.  Autumn's crush Jay still hasn't made an appearance, though he has been mentioned.  Basketball Night in Canada is the first Unruly episode to go beyond the school to the point of interacting with the environs.  There's also a bit that's similar to what Greg Taylor mentions in one of his commentaries.  My main characters tend to be female, and with a series set at an all-girls school, there are few roles for males.  Dylan's role is to let Skye show off a bit.

The altercation was already part of Caitlin's plan.  She didn't know if there would be one, but she had contingencies in case there was.  None of the Unrulies escalated the situation.  Caitlin doesn't really have a lawyer, but the Academy does.  The Academy believes in keeping tabs on what former students are doing, and has a number of lawyers amongst its alumni.  Dylan's lawyer would have to be expensive and good to match.

Skye's baseball reference could use a bit more unpacking.  In the sport, there are two types of runs scored, earned and unearned.  Earned runs are the usual means of scoring; a runner crosses home plate without being tagged out.  This can happen through regular play, advancing on a hit or a sacrifice.  Unearned runs occur when the defense, the team in the field, makes an error, as declared by the official scorer.  A wild pitch, a throw that goes over the catcher's head, or even the third baseman's, a fumble by an outfielder, all of those that let a runner score are errors, meaning the run is unearned.  An unearned run still counts, though.

Going to close with a question.  Would it be helpful to have a cast page, with the names of the girls who have appeared?

Tomorrow, the new Unruly episode, Chapter 7, "Bishop to Queen's Level Two".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the history of adaptations continues with the 60s.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Frankenstein Unbound.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* Same reasoning leads to schools that don't exist.  Malls are open to the public.  Schools aren't.

19 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night In Canada - Chapter 6

"The question is, what are you willing to do to pass?"
"Powell, Carpenter, and Vincent were in on the fix.  There is no way they would have acted like they did otherwise."
"I found out from Jennie an hour before the game."
"To the mall!"

Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 6 - Mall Trawl

Oshawa Centre bustled as shoppers wended their way from store to store.  The food court was busy as the supper rush descended on the various offerings.  The mood changed, a subtle change, one that the crowd of shoppers would not be able to articulate, but one that the crowd could trace.  The source of the mood change had entered the mall - four teenaged girls, all wearing the uniform of the Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy.  Security guards appeared along the girls' path, keeping a watchful eye on them.  For their part, three of the girls ignored the attention.

"Caitlin, why are they watching us?" Laura asked.  She moved in closer to the red-haired leader.

"Our reputation precedes us."  Caitlin smiled at a guard as she walked past him.  "We're like wolves in a herd of caribou.  If we keep our body language friendly, no one gets spooked and there's no stampede."

18 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night in Canada Chapter 5 - Commentary

The Unrulies continue their investigation into the fixing of Skye's basketball game.  Welcome to the commentary for "In on the Fix".  Please read the chapter first before continuing.

The opening of the chapter is an attempt to balance the apparent collective swoon the seniors have for their English teacher and the fact that a percentage of the girls are homosexual.  After all, Laura has no interest in Mr. Baker, but it is unlikely she'd be the only one.  Fortunately, a few details have come up in previous chapters that help.  The big one is that each Unruly is in competition with the rest, even if they work with each other.  Caitlin and Autumn are the obvious; they're trying to one-up the other with Mr. Baker.  However, and completely unplanned, Skye hasn't gone ga-ga like her roommates.  While that means I need to figure out Skye's love life at some point, I do have some Unrulies who aren't smitten.  Others will appear.  Fawna is, but her sister?  Not so much.

Laura's continuing crisis led to an impromptu research session during NaNoWriMo.  NaNo, as mentioned on the blog a few times, has a goal of writing 50 000 words in 30 days.  The goal is best reached without having to stop mid-writing to look up details.  However, Unruly was done mostly by the seat of the pants.  Episodes were conceptual, followed by a quick plotting either on the bus or just before falling asleep to figure out the direction.  Seldom were any major scenes worked out in full before writing, though highlights were there.  Details were worked out as they came up.  Laura falls well outside the system.  Ontario has a number of requirements to get a high school diploma which homeschool students do need to follow.  Laura's background, though, messed that up.  She doesn't have the required credits, tests, or volunteer hours.  Ms Stone could smooth that over if she wanted.  Laura is at the Academy because of a witness protection program; her identity as "Laura Jones" could easily get paperwork that covers the missing requirements.  The end of year episode, when it gets done, will need to take all of the above into account.  Laura has someone hoping to go to the same university she does.

School cafeterias are a common source of humour.  Anything done lowest bidder has the potential to be of lowest quality.  Laura's thought was that if students got sick on the food, a new company would have to come it.  Flora had the same idea.  The company is well aware of the type of school it has a contract with, though.  The Headmistress does know what she's doing here.  The seniors have a choice; eat the terrible food in the cafeteria or make their own.  For younger students, it's incentive to learn to cook.

Laura's approach is a lot more blunt than her roommates'.  She's used to dealing with and working with criminals who responded better to violence than diplomacy.  Caitlin prefers the subtle threat of violence, with Skye doing the looming, and Autumn prefers social engineering.  This isn't the first time that Laura jumped to the physical.  Back in The New Girl, Laura wanted gas grenades.  Even in The Great Jennifer Round-Up, Laura was ready to call Caitlin's bluff about using drugs to interrogate Juliana.  Subtle, Laura is not.

Getting the Unrulies around is turning into a bit of a chore.  The girls should be old enough to drive, but none of them are crazy enough to leave a vehicle where their classmates can get to it.  Bicycling is an option, though, again, that means trusting classmates.  That leaves either walking or cabbing.  With the Academy on the outskirts of Oshawa, walking would take a good chunk of time.  Cabs, thus, become the preferred means.  Drivers are well aware of the dangers of entering the campus, and some aren't thrilled to have potential supervillains in with them.  Oddly, money isn't that much of a problem.  The Unrulies are inventive in acquiring wealth.

Caitlin's approach became the highlight.  Her method is to find out as much about her target as possible, then use her knowledge to throw the victim off-stride.  Here, she just lets Autumn rattle off the details found.  Bree was outmatched before she left school for the day.  Laura pointed out a potential problem I saw while writing the chapter; if the three Simcoe students were friends, why weren't they together?  Fortunately, her roommates are smart and figured it out for me.

Tomorrow, the new Unruly episode, Chapter 6, "Mall Trawl".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the pixelacious June news round-up.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the history of adaptations continues with the 60s.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

15 Jun 2015

Traveller to Firefly - A Retired Imperial Naval Officer

I'm back to playing around with MWP's Firefly RPG, seeing how much work is needed to use it for Traveller's Third Imperium.  So far, I've looked at converting a character, Maera, to Cortex+ and rebuilt the IMS TANSTAAFL for the system.  In both cases, the results felt about right.  I'm almost comfortable with the proof of concept.  The next step is to create a character that will fit into the Imperium without going through any of the previous Traveller character creation methods.

12 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night In Canada - Chapter 5

"That was the worst game until you found whatever you did."
"Laura's failing English."
"Take a look at our last two games."
"It means there's not enough cheesecake."

Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 5 - In On the Fix

The next morning, Caitlin let Laura sleep in.  There was no use disturbing the girl; her mind was set.  Caitlin gave a mental shrug.  One less girl in the class meant one less girl to compete with for Mr. Baker's attention.  All the girls had the fantasy of being the One, or at least appeared to have that dream.  Caitlin knew there had to be girls there who didn't see Mr. Baker as a catch, beyond just Laura.  The culture of the Academy forced the students to hide their true motives.  The competition between fellow students was intense, and anything went as long as Rule Four was obeyed.  Rule Four, "Don't get caught."

Caitlin took a few extra minutes in front of her mirror, making sure everything was just so.  Her skirt was properly pleated, with the edges crisp.  Her red hair was thoroughly brushed, then pushed back with a black headband to keep it out of her face.  Caitlin wished her hair wasn't so straight; a little bit of curl to give her locks the right amount of bounce as she walked and talked, to add some extra animation.  She sighed.  Nothing to be done there.  The redhead sat on her bed to put on her knee-high black boots.  The Academy had rules on what colour footwear had to be; there was nothing specific about what the footwear could or couldn't be.  Satisfied with her appearance, Caitlin marched to the door.  "Let's go, ladies.  Class awaits."

11 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night in Canada Chapter 4 - Commentary

Laura has an existential crisis and finds a new solution.  Welcome to the commentary for "Cheesecake and English".  Please read the chapter first before continuing.

The basketball game is over.  I realized early that I couldn't do a proper play-by-play narrative while working in the investigation and figure out who is behind the scheme, so the basketball game became the catalyst, not the plot.  The Unrulies are reacting instead of acting, at least at this point.  Not quite what I had in mind for the series, but it will work out.

The conversation that Caitlin and Skye have defines the new problem, now that the immediate issue of the basketball game is done.  Caitlin, of course, blames Verity, then comes up with other possibilities.  Her thinking is that the Academy was set up to fail, giving officials a reason to close the school.  Bad blood between the Academy and St. Dymphna is a given, so if the Unrulies go all out on another school, they'd be seen as the villains.  That's assuming that the target wasn't Simcoe or even another school.

In the library, Laura is having a minor crisis.  English homework is driving her mad.  Give her a chemical equation and she'd have it figured out in a snap.  Poetry is her bane.  Autumn starts a running gag here about Laura and her literacy.  The discussion here prompted some research, though.  Laura's coming into a school late.  She was placed in with girls her age instead of being tested to see where she needs help, in part because Laura's at the Academy for protection instead of education.  Ms Stone, though, won't let a student leave without being fully prepared for what lies beyond high school, so Laura does have to take classes.  Autumn isn't looking that far ahead; she points out the obvious - Laura doesn't have the needed courses for an Ontario high school diploma.  Not graduating leads to no need for English.  Ah, if only.

Caitlin's arrival let me overwhelm her.  All she wants is to tell Laura to go to Neutral Grounds.  Instead, she gets hit with unassailable logic that Laura no longer has to wake up and go to a class she hates.  Caitlin is perfect as a straight man in these bits.  Egos need to be poked at times.

The Mackenzie-Laura relationship continues to develop.  Sure, Mackenzie wrote the poems, but there is a reason why Laura never answered Autumn's question about what she paid for them.  It does bring in questions about romantic relationships the Unrulies have with others.  Usually, it's not a big problem, provided none of the Rules are broken*.  Dating someone from the rival St. Dymphna gets heads turning, which is why no one hears of it.  On the Unruly side, it could be seen as breaking Rule Three, "Always support your sisters," by fraternizing** with the enemy.  On the St. Dymphna, it is a Catholic school; ignoring the homosexual issue***, dating an Unruly is somewhere between a sin and selling one's soul to the Devil.  There's a storyline waiting to happen there.

In the meantime, the budding relationship is good for highlighting how messed up Laura's education is.  Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and has been the most adapted of his plays.  Romeo and Juliet has become musicals, action movies, animation, and ballets, transplanted in time to be about street gangs and about robots.  Laura has seen two of of the remakes, Romeo Must Die, with Jet Li, and Gnomeo & Juliet, featuring garden gnomes.  Romeo and Juliet is a great way to show that a character hasn't read the original; if the character thinks it's romantic, they haven't read it.  Laura does argue that kids' movies don't involve tragedies, but Gnomeo & Juliet does have its moments.  I've used the gag elsewhere, though not too often in works meant for the public.  The other time I used it here on the blog was for the pre-NaNo work I did for By the Numbers.

Laura's issues with English class are based, in part, on my own.  While I wasn't trying to catch up like she is, I found the class to be repetitive and, ultimately, useless.  I learned more about grammar in French class and learned more about the writing I would do in university in Physics, Chemistry, and Geography.  The assigned books left me cold, with one, A Separate Peace leaving me bored to the point of just not continuing.  I did not care what happened to the characters, nor did I care about my mark.  Turns out, the pace of summer school meant a dull assignment was over in a day, with books covered by the end of the week.  Laura's problem is different, and I do make sure that my problems aren't hers or any other students'.

Tomorrow, the new Unruly episode, Chapter 5, "In on the Fix".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the Adaptation Fix-It Shop overhauls Dungeons & Dragons.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the June news round-up.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* Rule One, "Always wear your uniform," can be seen as trying to prevent teenaged sex here.
** Soroitizing?
*** Acceptance of the gay community in an Ontario Catholic school seems to depend on the board and the school staff.  Suffice to say that the students tend to be more accepting than the adults.

5 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night In Canada - Chapter 4

"Signs of blackmail or bribery.  An email that's vague enough to be innocent while still being legit to not be considered spam."
"Make sure she knows it's about the ref."
"Now get out there and show them what a Phoenix can do!"
"That's tonight dealt with."

Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 4 - Cheesecake and English

Caitlin looked up as Skye returned to their shared dorm room.  The tall girl tossed her gym clothes on her bed.  "Cait."

The red-haired girl pushed her homework aside.  "Yes, Skye?"

"You know how you promised not to interfere?"  Skye saw the redhead nod.  "Thank you for weasel wording your way out of it."  The tall girl smiled.  "That was the worst game until you found whatever you did."

"Who won?"

4 Jun 2015

Unruly - Basketball Night in Canada Chapter 3 - Commentary

Caitlin takes matters into her own hands and Heidi's friend finally gets a name..  Welcome to the commentary for "Clock's Ticking".  Please read the chapter first before continuing.

Heidi's friend, first introduced in Chapter 2, got named.  There wasn't an easy way to slip the name in; I was pushing it with Heidi.  But, now Caitlin needs to call her something, though "Heidi's Friend" is still on her list.  Tanya might regret getting involved at this point, but that's now on her.

Caitlin takes charge of the investigation.  She can't help it, really.  It's her nature and the reason she's at the Academy.  After all, leading at least two revolutions before high school - one against her previous school, one against Academy juniors - can't be done by just anyone.  Takes a certain mindset.  Heidi might have fallen in right away if the red-haired girl hadn't mentioned lock picking.

Simcoe's computer lab may or may not reflect current standards in high schools in Ontario.  I never researched this.  However, libraries do use similar.  Computers there provided a virtual drive only, so anything that needs to be saved has to be on a USB memory stick.  I'm also assuming that schools were forced to upgrade their equipment with Microsoft ending support of Windows XP.  Many corporate and government sites had to go through a very last minute upgrade, hardware and software, as a result, though Microsoft gave plenty of warning.  In most cases, new computer equipment was needed; the costs of upgrading was far more than anyone wanted to pay, leading to a larger cost as everything is replaced at once instead an incremental roll out.  Schools aren't in the best position to take this sort of budget hit, being underfunded.  Tanya's miracle, indeed.

Passwords.  Everywhere wants a password today.  Job sites, social media, newspaper webpages, and places that you never expect, on top of work or school logins.  How does one track it all?  There are password keepers, but those need a password, too.  Common ones include swordfish, 123456, password, and qwerty.  The result?  A staggering number of accounts are just waiting to be misused*.  What does help, though, is a limit on the number of tries at any one time.  Most corporate and government sites allow three times before locking the account.  Sites like Gmail, though, can't lock the account in the same way, but will provide a means to reset a password through a link sent to a registered contact, such as email or phone.  Autumn can't use brute force, not that she would, to hack an account.  Tanya did get lucky, but Autumn didn't have anything to lose.

The riot Tanya references at the Academy was Caitlin's Jennifer uprising.  The Academy does have some problems with public relations.  The Unrulies are a convenient scapegoat, and they do relish the part.  If they're going to get blamed anyway, might as well do the crime.  It was one of the core concepts I kept in mind when writing; the Unrulies would normally be someone else's antagonists.  In any other story, the Academy would be the villain.  The girls enjoy being in the role, at least most of the time.  I never had a chance to do some pre-NaNo work as I wanted, similar to the background work I did for By the Numbers to get in to the characters' heads.  Keeping in mind that the Unrulies would normally be someone else's villains helped keep the plots going.

Tomorrow, the new Unruly episode, Chapter 4, "Cheesecake and English".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Evil Dead.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Fixing Dungeons & Dragons.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of /Lost in Translation/.

* A recent xkcd strip added a new wrinkle, though.  Pass phrases are harder to guess, easier to remember, and can include a mnemonic by site so that different passwords can be used without losing track.