Writing a Book: Characters

A few months ago I started writing my first ever book. So far the experience has been both enjoyable and exciting, but one element of book writing is harder for me than the rest: Keeping track of characters. I have problems remembering stuff and fictional stuff is even harder to remember, which is why I’m a terrible liar.

To help keep track of characters as the book progresses I came up with a “template” character profile. The template contains the information on a single character, which I copy to a separate note in the MacOS notes app for each character and password protect to save them from prying eyes. So far this system has worked well for me, but I imagine it would fall on its face if I wasn’t continuously updating each note as the book progresses.

I thought I would share the template I use to profile each character in case anybody else finds it useful. So here it is.

  • Name – An obvious one really…
  • Age – Again pretty obvious
  • Description – A description of a character is helpful, for example, homeless man or police officer.
  • Aliases – Characters aren’t always known by their full name. Bill instead of William for example.
  • Physical Appearance – I find it helpful to help visualisation of the characters I’m writing about to jot down what they look like. Hair style and colour, height, eye colour, build, etc.
  • Skills – Handy for reminding me of which character might be able to pick a lock, or cook beans.
  • Relationships – The relationships a character has to other characters is a valuable piece of information to know, even if the relationship isn’t mentioned once in the book. Knowing that two brothers had the same upbringing might help build in common traits.
  • Book Appearances – A list of chapters that the character appears in within the book is helpful for referencing back to previous chapters.
  • Book Mentions – I list of chapters that a character is mentioned in but doesn’t appear in.

As always, I’m always happy to take advice on ways to improve my work, so if any authors out there have any tips on managing characters consistently throughout a book they’d be greatly appreciated.

ShoreTel LLDP Followup

A while ago I wrote a post about the experience I had setting up LLDP on Cisco switches with ShoreTel phones. Since then I have learned a trick or two and though I’d give a little update.

In the post I mentioned changing the configuration files for the phones on the ShoreTel server in order to correctly set the language and country, thus making the dial tone etc sound correct to end users. Unfortunately, this approach is broken. While it works to start with, we found that ShoreTel overwrites the configuration files periodically and removes the custom settings enter, which is a pain un the UK when the default country for ShoreTel is USA.

To get around this, there are some other configuration files which I was made aware of by our ShoreTel partner. Fortunately though ShoreTel provide some custom configuration files for each phone which are included in the main configuration file. The table below shows which custom configuration file you need for each model of phone.

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So within the c:\inetpub\ftproot\sevgcustom.txt file for the IP 230g phones we use, all we have to do is add the following to the file.

# Please consult Shoreline support before editing or deleting this file

Include “Country_7.txt”
Include “Language_4.txt”

And done. If you reboot a phone, you will see it downloads the sevgcustom.txt file from the server and the language and country settings are all correct.

Don’t forget to change the configuration files for any other model phones you have!

tado – An Honest 1 Year Review.

A little over a year ago I was excited to receive my new tado smart thermostat. When it dropped on the doorstep I couldn’t wait to get it installed and it was actually up and running in less than half an hour before I had to go to work. The instructions provided were tailored to my setup based on the boiler and existing thermostat and were easy to follow, although an “expert” mode would have been nice as I’m familiar with central heating wiring to start with. The included extras were a big plus though, including everythin one might need for the installation. 

Configuration of schedules isn’t as simple as I had imagined it would be. Having to add new sections which tweaked the sections either side of them, which made the process quite tedeous. The only real positive was the fact you only need to spend the time once when first setting up the tado. 

Location based control using the family’s phones worked suprisingly well and was pretty accurate. Not having to worry about turning the heating off before leaving the house was very convenient and having the house warm when we returned improves the whole coming home in the dark after work depression. It also worked well for when the kids return from school before me and the wife, not having to worry about teaching the kids how the heating system works was great.

The thermostat itself is pretty vanilla looking which I suppose makes its integration into your room decor pretty pain free. Unfortunately though, the thermostat isn’t particularly user friendly or responsive. I seemed to find myself standing in front of the thermostat far longer than I used to with the old thermostat, just to turn the temperature up a degree or two. 

Unfortunately the experience continued to decline from there. Tado promised apple HomeKit integration “soon” which was one of the selling points for me personally. There was also talk of an Apple Watch app too, which could have been excused if HomeKit integration was available. After a year of “2nd quarter” then “third quarter” and so on as a release date though I pretty much gave up on HomeKit integration. Then I received an email claiming it would be available within a month and to contact support to arrange a replacement tado bridge to enable it. Then the release was delayed again. Then again. I wish I was exaggerating. It’s even more insulting that they have managed to release radiator valves in the same time frame.

Then came the fabled savings touted on tado’s website. According to their website a house the same age and same size as mine should see over €1,000 saving. I knew this was far fetched, but I wasn’t prepared to see the actual savings I made on gas over the period of 12months. £33. Again, I wish I was exaggerating but unfortunately not. This means my tado cost me £110 in the first year. Nothing like what was implied on tado’s website. 

Last week I received an email from tado reminding me that my next annual subscription was due, which is upwards of £100. After contacting tado to voice my concerns and receiving no reply other than automated “we’re sorry it’s taking so long” messages I was fed up with tado’s customer service. I then emailed them again to tell them to cancel my subscription and send a box to return my tado. I’m yet to receive a response three weeks later. 

While I like the idea of smart thermostats and understand the concept of energy efficiency using technology, tado isn’t a product I would endorse. Don’t get me wrong, it has worked reliably since the day I got it, but the lies, broken promises and lack of customer service to back their technology leaves me disappointed at best. Since central heating is imperative to the comfort and health of my family, tado is now back in it’s box waiting to be collected and there is a nest on my wall in it’s place. At the end of the day, the nest was only £30 more to buy outright than the next annual tado subscription, so it was a no brainier really. Plus it looks way cooler. And it’s easier to use. And the schedule is far superior. 

Seriously? Brexit?

I’m getting sick and tired about hearing about Brexit now. It’s all I ever seem to see in the news app on my iPhone, and all I seem to see on the news on TV. Why anybody though Brexit was a good idea is beyond me.

For starters, most of the muppets who voted to leave the European Union last year during the referendum don’t even know themselves why they wanted to leave. Some of the interviews on the news showing people giving bollocks excuses about immigration etc as the reason they voted leave, and then being told on live TV that they were wrong in their rationale was cringe worthy.

Then there were the politicians in the leave camp, lying through their teeth and scare mongering to try to rack up the leave votes. I’m still oblivious as to how they have managed to get away with lying to the public. Surely it’s classed as rigging a vote. Personally I’d put them in prison.

And now where do we stand? On the fence of course. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. The government seems to think they can negotiate an exit from the EU and keep access to all of the perks the EU brings to the table, while eliminating the disadvantages. Sure they can’t think that will work?

In all seriousness, the referendum shouldn’t have happened the way it did. The vote count should have had limits imposed, such as 60% either was, and the government should have laid the exact terms of Britain’s exit from the EU out on the table before the referendum happened. At least then they the public could have made informed votes based on truth and foresight.

But no. We ended up with the shit fest we are in now. Looks like Cameron managed to bail at just the right time.

 

via Daily Prompt: Seriousness

Anxiety In An IT Role

One of the biggest challenges I face while dealing with anxiety is my job. I work in a small IT department for a company with about 150 employees, all with varying levels of IT knowledge and all with very different patience levels when it comes to things they don’t understand, or that don’t work how they expect them to. Users are frustrating to any IT person at the best of times before mental health is even a variable.

The biggest obstacle I face is the variation in my job role, which is down to the small team I am part of. Some organisations have the luxury of having an entire team dedicated to their storage infrastructure. An entire team dedicated to networking. An entire team dedicated to database administration. More teams for wireless networking, directory services, security, teams for different application stacks, teams of developers. The list goes on. As it stands, I am the company database administrator, Sharepoint administrator, Skype for Business administrator, general application administrator, PKI administrator and developer, which isn’t even the complete list. I also do my fair share of network management, virtualisation administration, general domain administration, and then end user support for anything from “we need a microwave link to a platform offshore,” to my printer is printing a black line on every page. I’m also jointly responsible for network security, telephony, door access systems and I’m the holiday cover for the guy that does everything else. 

As you might immagine this is quite a stressful workload. Keeping the wheels turning is so time consuming it often involves overtime to fix issues or install security patches, and leaves very little time to complete tasks I consider essential to all good implementation projects, such as proper documentation for the next guy to take over, user documentation to act as training materials, and organising and providing end user trainin

Development is bitter sweet when it comes to dealing with anxiety. The development process is a great escape from the general bustle of the office. Headphones on and keyboard smoking is the best ways to pass the day without even blinking. The problem comes when the deadline is looming. If the project is behind schedule, that can cause any amount of anxiety, but not as much as the prospect of releasing an application into the wild for users to scrutinise and find problems with. This is inevitable with any application you release, which might be the best applications in the world but that doesn’t stop the feelings of self consciousness, or prevent a developer suffering from anxiety from losing sleep. Having somebody use something you spend weeks coding and testing and coding and testing, only to complain that there is a typo on some button in a settings menu is a terrible feeling, and often feels like a massive kick in the balls.

Perhaps the most unbarabley extreme anxiety attacks come from my least favourite part of my job though. Presenting an application to users, or providing training on a new product. Standing in front of 150 people trying to teach them something is ridiculously hard for me and something I sinserely hope no anxiety sufferer has to go through, although they inevitably will since the world doesn’t stop for anybody. I have yet to schedule some user training for a product that I deployed months ago. The problem is, I keep delaying booking the training sessions in because I can’t face all of the judgmental faces in the room staring back at me, asking stupid questions to try and disprove what I am telling them. I’ve even considered handing my notice in to be completely honest, just to avoid the prospect of it.

In this day and age employers should be able to spot the signs and do more to help employees suffering with anxiety. Unfortunately though due to the culture of the workplace today, mental health is still a taboo subject, and anxiety is hushed up like some kind of dirty secret. Since the only other people in the company that know about your condition  are in Human Resources, most anxiety sufferers are still expected to perform tasks that cause extreme anxieiousness. It’s about time the world stopped ignoring mental health illnesses, which in itself would probably go a long way towards helping sufferers.