2010 in Review

OK, Since I don’t send out a Christmas letter, here’s my life update in case anyone is interested! If you aren’t, then have a Happy New Year, I hope 2011 is an awesome year for you!

Anyway, the year started a bit slow and cold. Karey and I ringed in the new year sitting in our apartment watching the ball drop, in Times Square, a place we’d gotten quite acquainted with in 2009 (The first thing most of our visitors wanted to see was Times Sq., and we had previously been there at the end of Dec. 09 to see the tree in nearby Rockefeller Plaza). 

In February, I went to my third Microsoft MVP Summit, and hung out with a lot of great people, including Darius Wey, who I met for the first time. I also spent quite a few hours with a few characters laughing ourselves silly in the Courtyard’s lobby while watching Curling. In case you ever wanted to know another name for your cell phone’s SIM card, you can thank this session of general giddiness for the term “essence” and a bunch of evil hand gestures.

March was fairly uneventful, save for the fact that I started supervising my first intern, who has since left Columbia and is now studying at NYU (I don’t think I had anything to do with that choice Winking smile).  In April, a good friend started work at Google, after having been stolen away from us at CDS. Late in that month Karey & her mom went to a Stamping convention in Akron (Who knew stampers had conventions?), and the weather finally started to get nicer.

In May I started writing my novel, Mandate, which I’d finish in mid-August. A fun experience that helped me understand the fiction writing process as I jumped into it.  Mid-month my parents came up to visit our humble Peekskill dwelling, which marked my father’s first trip on a commuter train and first trip on the m60 bus in Harlem. He was quite amused.

In June Karey, myself, Martine, and Ye drove down from NY to Pittsburgh for the BDRM conference (Karey didn’t go, she had serious mother-daughter  type things to do with her mom over the weekend). Martine stayed with us at Karey’s home, and got to see a part of America she hadn’t previously (e.g., rural life!)

In July the most memorable thing was how hot it was in NY. I also travelled up to Boston for a Boston Pocket PC Meeting, and Karey took me to the movies to see Eclipse (she likes the sparkly vampires).  Early in the month we spent some time in Ohio (Over the 4th), and later in the month I wrote a few reviews. In general a busy month.

In August I both finished Mandate and got to see Jimmy Buffett in concert for the second time! The summer slowly slipped away as we enjoyed a few final hot days, and moved into September.

And boy was September busy! I was in Austin for a few days visiting the company that does cell phone antenna testing. I was in Seattle for a few days in prep for the Windows Phone 7 launch, AND I was asked to write a book on Windows Phone 7! My second book took a few months to write, and was a great but busy experience! Sepetember also saw my intern, Cindy, start working with us at CDS.

October and November were filled with a lot of book writing, a visit from my parents, Thanksgiving, and SJDM in St. Louis. I also gave a guest lecture in Elke’s Decision making course, had a phone interview for a real job, and had breakfast with Tony as he passed through the area from Albany.  Finally that brings us to December, in which I had a flat tire on my birthday, and spent Christmas (plus a few days more) in Ohio having an awesome time with family and friends.

Along the way this year I also started teaching CCD again and began lectoring fairly often at my church. Had some really high points and some low ones, and was overall pretty content. I hope 2011 proves to be no worse, and that this time next year all of you can share with me some awesome 2011 stories as I write up my next year in review!

Happy New Year!

Still Here!

Wow, this place gets really empty when I don’t pipe in my daily activities! About 2 months ago I turned jonwestfall.com back into full blog posts, without any republishing of my content from Thoughts Media. My pings.jonwestfall.com site is broken and I haven’t fixed that yet, and I’ve been bogged down with a writing project (Windows Phone 7 book), oh, and I also resurrected NerdNewz.com and have moved some of my content over there.

So in summation, I’m still here, and still plan on writing in this Blog, just as soon as I have some time Winking smile

Come And Get It: Mandate Now Available (& On Sale!)

It’s ready, it’s ready, it’s ready!!!

Got some time this weekend and feel like reading something that someone you know has written? Well you’ve come to the right place. Mandate is done, and ready for you in a bunch of different formats!

It’s been a fun journey, and now I’m ready to share 😉 Below is my “Blurb” if you want to know more. And you can always visit the Get Mandate site for all the info on the book!

Rich Heel is an average American. He works a somewhat steady job, has two kids, and a loving wife. He cares about his family and others, but doesn’t care much for politics. All of that changes after a chance encounter on television, a seemingly overnight campaign, and a landslide election that propels Rich from a nobody to the most powerful man in the world. But as Rich finds out, things aren’t always easy to understand, even at the top. And as he soon discovers, as a somebody, you’re the perfect target for anybody.

Scan Directly From Your Office to Evernote

Many of us work in offices that have multifunction printers / scanners / copiers / faxes / latte machines (OK, maybe not the last part), and these machines typically support sending scans via e-mail as PDF attachments. This is great for those of us (like me) who are making a real effort to go paperless as much as possible. But it’s still a pain to get the email and file the paper away in it’s right place. So to speed things up, I hooked up my personal scanner (at home, a Lexmark) and the office scanner at work directly to Evernote via some crafty GMail filters. While this works best if you use Gmail for your e-mail, you could set this up even if you don’t use GMail primarily  by simply having your scans sent there. Here is the filter I set up:



What does the filter do? Well first it skips the inbox so that I don’t have to see the notes there. Then it marks as read so I don’t see it in my unread pile. Then it throws a Label on it that I call Evernoted so that I can keep track of these things if I ever want to. It then forwards it to my m.evernote.com address, which I’ve obscured. I have an Evernote notebook named “Incoming Notes” that is my default notebook. This is my “sorting space” that I use to sort notes out after a sync. Finally the filter never sends the e-mail to SPAM, because it’s not likely those two addresses will be spamming me anytime soon (since they’re both printers).

Pretty efficient, and there are other possibilities too. For example, a group of people could set up a shared evernote account and shared gmail account to make an impromptu document scan repository using Evernote’s public sharing of notebooks. Do you have a twist on this as well? Go ahead and leave it in the comments!

Congress – Don’t Waste My Money Recognizing Me!

So apparently there is a drive to make this week “National Postdoc Appreciation Week”. When I heard of this initially, I figured it was just some fanciful idea, something fairly harmless. That was until I got an email today (Full text below) asking me to write to my congressional representative asking to sponsor a bill to actually make this official. Here’s an excerpt of the email:

Dear Fellow Postdoc/Postdoc Administrator:

We URGENTLY need you to contact any and all members of the US House of
Representatives THIS WEEK and request that they co-sponsor H.Res. 1545
to formally recognize Sept. 20-24 as National Postdoctoral Appreciation
Week. It is currently in the US House Committee on Education and Labor.
We just found out today that it requires 25 or more co-sponsors to be
passed by the Committee and be put on the suspension bill calendar for a
vote next week (those are non-controversial usually non-partisan bills
like this one where they suspend the House rules and vote quickly).

Now disregarding the false urgency implied here, the rest of the e-mail goes on to detail all the good things about having a whole week dedicated to recognizing postdocs. I was a bit annoyed though. Remember my rant a few months back on Post Office Renaming ? Well, it immediately came to mind, so I drafted the following response to the originator of this movement:

Dear Aaron,

Recently your e-mail was directed to me through our director of postdoctoral affairs. I’ve only recently learned of the movement to create a National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week and as such, I was surprised to see your impassioned plea that this be made an official recognition through congressional action. Unfortunately, I believe I disagree with your position.

While I believe that postdocs make a substantial contribution to academia both in teaching and research, I find it disagreeable that the resources of my congress be used in such a manner as to bring national attention to them. As I’ve outlined on my own personal blog, congressional resources are not free, as a taxpayer I am financing in some small part all business of the legislature. Honestly, I believe my money is better spent by the legislature in attempts to fix social and economic ills rather than on recognition for any group of individuals. In this case, I do not believe recognition can bring about change such as better pay or benefits for postdocs – only negotiations between postdocs and their respective institutions can do this. Obviously our employers already know of the contributions we make, their ignorance of our needs is not something that this bill would provide in any way. Therefore I believe it is my duty to write to my congressional representation and request they do not sponsor the bill you advocate. I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Sincerely yours,
Jon Westfall.

As I said before in the Post Office Rant. Recognizing someone for their contributions is an excellent idea. I try to recognize all of the people I work with for the unique contributions they bring to our group that help me be a better researcher, scientist, and even person. But what good does it do for me to recognize people I don’t even know? Why should I recognize a profession as a whole when it would be much more genuine to appreciate individuals. Recognition weeks, months, days, etc… make people feel as though they’re recognizing someone else, when in reality, they’re simply handwaving. If you want to make someone else feel special, do it on a personal level.

And don’t use my money for it!

Full Text (Please feel free to contact Aaron to let him know if you think I’m an idiot and he’s doing a great thing):

—–Original Message—–
From: Aaron T. Dossey [mailto:bugochem@gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 11:14 PM
To: Aaron T. Dossey
Subject: Urgent: Need help with pro-postdoc advocacy.

Dear Fellow Postdoc/Postdoc Administrator:

We URGENTLY need you to contact any and all members of the US House of
Representatives THIS WEEK and request that they co-sponsor H.Res. 1545
to formally recognize Sept. 20-24 as National Postdoctoral Appreciation
Week. It is currently in the US House Committee on Education and Labor.
We just found out today that it requires 25 or more co-sponsors to be
passed by the Committee and be put on the suspension bill calendar for a
vote next week (those are non-controversial usually non-partisan bills
like this one where they suspend the House rules and vote quickly).

Earlier this year I wrote a resolution on behalf of the National
Postdoctoral Association and submitted it to the congressman for my
district on a whim. We were fortunate that his office was interested in
it right away and over the summer he (Cliff Stearns) sponsored it and
submitted it to the Committee. (see URLs and emails below)

Now we need your help for it to be voted on DURING National Postdoc
Appreciation Week. Please contact any and all members of congress and
ask that they contact Rep. Stearns’ office and co-sponsor it THIS WEEK!
This will be very beneficial for many advocacy efforts on behalf of
postdocs and all young researchers and their careers, as well as
innovation, science, technology and education as a whole in this country!

Here are some URLs for the bill itself and that will help you find
contact information for various members of congress to contact. Also,
below is the usual “Dear Colleagues” letter you can also distribute to
the congressional staff members you talk to – it’s the official one from
Rep. Stearns’ office and contains the name and email address of his
staffer in charge of this bill (Nicole Alexander).

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.RES.1545:
http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:hr1545ih.txt.pdf
http://edlabor.house.gov/about/members/
http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

Sincerely,


Aaron T. Dossey, Ph.D.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

10 Back To School Android Apps Not On Everyone’s List

So there are a lot of Android Back to School app lists floating around (like this one and this one) and most pull out the same old “back to school”-esque apps (Dropbox, Evernote, etc..). Now these aren’t awesome apps – they’re just way too common to be “discovered”. Here’s my top 10 list of apps – many you might not have ever heard of. You can find them all in the Market, just search by name:

10. LauncherPro
Because the stock launcher is just not as cool

9. AnyPost
Sometimes you want to shoot a cool picture out to everyone through ping.fm – Twitter followers, facebookees, gchat status watchers, that guy you know who uses buzz, etc..

8. App Protector Pro
So you can let others play with your phone without wondering if they found that sextmessage

7.  c:geo
If you don’t geocache, you might want to start – it’s a fun way to explore your new campus (or your old one).

6. CallTrack
When was the last time I called Mom asking for money? When was the last time I called Mom period?!? Or when Mom says “You never call”, you can reply “Yes, I do, 2 Wednesdays ago about 9 PM”.

5. Google Translate
Know what the foreign kids are saying

4. PicSay
Because funny stuff will happen, and this can add the extra laugh to make your facebook photo post hilarious!

3. StopWatch (
Sometimes you need to time stuff, in lab classes, in real life, etc…

2. ThrottleCopter
A quick game, that’s addicting, and free.

and Jon’s #1 App:
1. 3Banana Notes
Easily sync up stuff on your phone to computer. For example, jot down that hotties phone number while chatting in class, sync it, and later when your phone is dead, you can call her and ask her to bring you to a power source!.

Why Am I Paying For Needless Post Office Renaming?

So here is an interesting thing about our government – they do some strange things out of the public eye that cost taxpayers money. Some of these things are nefarious, and others are just a bit exorbitant but otherwise harmless. Case and point? Renaming post offices.

Each year, Congress finds new and innovate ways to congratulate people. Recognize someone with a special day, or name something after them. Recently I’ve noticed a lot of bills passing that have renamed post offices in honor of people (Specifically, 104 times the 111th Congress has passed such a bill).

Let’s take one in specific, H. R. 4840 which designates the post office at 1979 Cleveland Avenue in Columbus, Ohio, the “Clarence D. Lumpkin Post Office”. This bill is fairly benign. It was introduced by Congressman Patrick Tiberi and co-sponsored by 16 other house members from Ohio, all of whom apparently really liked Clarence Lumpkin.

Now I don’t have a problem with my government patting someone on the back. Perhaps with a Mayor giving a nice certificate to someone, or a small affair back home where people can gather and honor someone for their achievements. What I do find strange is that 104 times these past 1.5 years, congress has had to go through quite a time-consuming process to name a building after someone. I don’t know about you, but I think my lawmakers could actually put that time to good use with laws that I may actually care about, or that might actually affect me. Clarence Lumpkin is a civic activist in the Columbus area. What he did probably affected those people greatly. It never affected me as a person living in either Marcy Kaptur’s or Dennis Kucinich’s congressional districts. It never affected me working in New York City. I’m sure the man made noble achievements but renaming a federal office?

Now I realize this is a bit small to rant on – but it sorta annoys me. Congress members can dangle things out there like this to their constituents without realizing how ludicrous it looks to the people who care. My congressmen should not be spending their time renaming post offices – they should be evaluating flawed government systems, regulating/deregulating as needed, and protecting my interests.

And I’m sorry Reps. Tiberi, Austria, Boccieri, Driehaus, Fudge, Jordan, Kaptur, Kilroy, Kucinich, LaTourette, Latta, Ryan, Schmidt, Space, Sutton, Turner, & Wilson, but even if I were living in the Columbus area, renaming a post office doesn’t “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, and doesn’t show “true faith and allegiance to the same”.

Please stop wasting my money, spent on your salaries, with useless political grandstanding and get to work fixing the problems this country has.

Money for Thought

I recently read and posted on my Facebook a USA Today story (Using The Chronicle of Philanthropy as their source) that Walmart, Beloved Low Price Supplier or Hated Evil Corporation (depending on whom you ask), topped the list of charitable cash contributors, donating $288 million last year. AT&T was second at $240 million, BoA third at $209 million, and down the line (source). A friend of mine from Grad School posted the following comment:

I thought this was an interesting question, so I ran some numbers. Walmart made about $14 billion in profits last year, and donated $288 million in cash, roughly 2%. AT&T, by comparison, made about $8 billion (Info from here, taking income and removing re-investment and dividend payments), donated $240 million in cash, roughly 3%. It’s undeniable that Walmart could donate more, however the difference between 2% and 3% isn’t so huge as to be a glaring difference (e.g., it’s not like Walmart donates 2% and AT&T is donating 6% or 10%), and these are huge numbers here to be sure.

One thing I thought was interesting was that Walmart seems most interested in providing for those who need food, as the article cites, pledging $2 billion over 5 years to combat hunger. This seems to me like one of the best uses for corporate donations today – to help people who desperately need help on a basic level. Donations helping stop hunger, and advance education and personal growth, all rank highly on my most deserved cause list. Donations to political campaigns however? Those aren’t too high on my list.

I bring that up because another philanthropy related piece that came up this week involved Target & Best Buy giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a politician, Tom Emmer, who isn’t very friendly to pro-gay causes (some might even label him a Bigot). Whatever your view on gay issues, I find it deeply disturbing that companies donate so much money to politicians in general, especially polarizing ones such as Emmer, all in the name of supporting candidates who “seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives”. Now to be fair, Walmart also shells out a lot of money to politicians, and I’m sure some are just as unsavory as Emmer appears to be. So where do I shop? Do I go to a store with low prices that some feel are set on the backs of their underpaid and poorly treated workers? Do I go to stores with higher prices that aren’t afraid to support a possible bigot in the name of profit? Do I just not shop at all?

Well, obviously the last one isn’t an option. I need to buy toilet paper somewhere. In the end I guess it comes down to price, for good reason. Shopping at Walmart let’s me keep more of my own money, that I may donate to causes I agree with. It’s less money that I’m giving to them to control and spend, and thus less money going places I potentially might not want it to go. If I shop at Target or Best Buy, I’m spending more money for products that I can usually find of equal quality at Walmart, and more money goes toward issues that I may or may not agree with. In the end, I’d rather control my money philanthropically, so I can be like this guy and freak people out by donating to causes I choose.

Thoughts?

Explain The Appeal of Wrestling / UFC to Me

I had an interesting realization about myself today: I really don’t enjoy watching two people fight each other in any way. And given the popularity of things like UFC / MMA / WWE / Action Movies, I’m wondering what it is I’m not “in to”.

Don’t get me wrong – the point of this post isn’t to bash those who do enjoy watching a good fight, a consenting adult watching two other consenting adults beat each other up is fine in my book. And the point of this isn’t to condemn violence in general – I’m not opposed to using violence when forced by the complete and utter failure of peaceful measures. The point of this post is to merely dissect what people may find appealing about fighting, so that I can try to understand why I, myself, don’t find it appealing. Comments are welcome, especially by my friends who do like to watch fights. Think of this post 50% for me, and 50% to inspire thought in others.

So the best I can tell, people watch fights for a variety of reasons:

  1. They feel a rush, similar to a true adrenaline surge, by watching.
  2. They see it as a competition, with the most competent fighter showing superiority over his or her opponent.
  3. They see it as a call to better themselves physically. Fighters must be in good physical shape, and it is this shape that may inspire others to exercise, eat right, etc..
  4. They enjoy seeing fantastical versions of normality (e.g., action movies)
  5. They just like physical violence in general, and enjoy watching it.

Now I’ll take each of these reasons and explore them a bit.

Rush
A true adrenaline rush is a pretty powerful feeling, as anyone who has ever had one (which I’m assuming is most people) can attest. I suppose it is possible to receive a ‘lite’ version of one by watching others fight, although it would seem to me that if watching fights were to engender anything, it would be an aggressive attitude in the viewer. Watching others, especially in high school, talk about watching WWE, I sometimes saw an aggressive form emerge, which was probably pretty appealing to someone who was smaller in stature, or not as physically confident about him or herself. I totally get this – If I’m self-conscious about myself and my abilities, immersing myself in a televised fight may give me a glimmer of what it is like to be physically dominant over another person. For the 5′ 7” crowd and lower, that is probably pretty appealing.

I’m not physically small though – and while I could really stand to lose some weight in my midsection, my arms and legs are fairly powerful. If I were forced to fight someone, I don’t have any doubts about my ability to put up a good fight against the people I come across on a regular basis (Since I don’t normally run across professional fighters, they’re not any of my concern). Perhaps this is why I don’t feel any sort of rush while watching a fight.

Competition
Competition in wrestling is fairly obvious: The better athlete should win the fight. However I personally believe that you lose a bit of respectability in competition when you can physically prevent others from competing. This is probably why I like Baseball better than Football. In football, one can physically prevent the opponent from competing – in baseball one cannot (e.g., you’d never see the catcher kick the legs out from under the batter as the pitcher pitches, or the guy covering first base physically run toward and tackle the base runner after a hit). I suppose in my mind, competition is best experienced when all sides have an equal chance to perform proactively, not in a reactive manner. Perhaps that’s why I don’t see fighting as an exceptional form of competition.

Physical Betterment
This is probably the easiest for me to dismiss personally. Seeing finely honed fighters popping muscles I didn’t even know I had is pretty damn impressive. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a really effective motivator to lose weight personally. It’s sad to say, but I’m being honest – I don’t exercise often and I eat poorly most likely because nothing I’ve run across yet has motivated me sufficiently to overcome barriers (e.g., the joys of sleep, traveling and paying for a gym, etc…). Watching an extreme fighter hasn’t motivated me in this regard, so I don’t seek it out.

They Enjoy Seeing Fantastical Versions of Real Life
In real life, if someone insults you, it is pretty bad form to haul off and hit them. You’ll get in trouble, laws will be broken, parts of you or the other person may be broken, etc… However the world of wrestling and fighting on TV lets you escape from this and imagine a different world. Action movies do the same. For me though, these fantastical versions must be really extreme for me to enjoy them. For example, I don’t enjoy seeing a man strike another man, and the second man fall to the floor. I do enjoy seeing Neo punch Agent Smith through several walls in The Matrix, because it’s SO far out there it really captures the imagination. I suppose for me, it must really be extreme to count as entertainment. I also think this reason explains why WWE is so appealing – it places events into a soap opera-esque story line, which further blurs the line between reality and television.

They just like violence
It’s sorta sad, but I assume some people just really like violence, and the idea of hurting other people. I don’t think I have to explore further their motivations or how this doesn’t apply to me other than to state that I’m mostly a peaceful person, and I don’t wish violence or pain even upon my enemies.

So those are my theories on why fighting is appealing to others, and why it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m really interested in hearing how it appeals to you, and why you watch it (if you do). I don’t really have any desire to be converted, I just am wondering why people find it so attractive!

Mandate Update & Unreleased Tidbits!

Since most of my public updates on Mandate, my novel, have come in the form of quick Twitter posts and status updates, I figured I’d actually write down some more than 140 characters to let everyone know where I’m at. And while I’m at it, I’m going to let slip a few things that no one knows yet about the novel as it reaches it’s halfway point.

First of all, Mandate’s first draft is officially halfway finished as of now. It’s been just over 2 months since I started writing, and my plan as of now is to have the first draft written by Labor Day. Revisions will then begin, and if all goes according to plan (who knows if it will), I’ll have it ready to go by mid-October. You guys will obviously know more than others, since you’ve been following since the beginning.

My schedule has actually deviated a few times, and it’s taught me some valuable things about writing fiction (as opposed to the non-fiction I normally write for work). Namely, inspiration is everything. Case and point? I was on a Chapter a week schedule until mid-June when I took a week to travel to Salt Lake to see my friend Steve. While in Salt Lake I had absolutely no desire to write, and so I didn’t (Felt a little guilty about that). Upon coming back, I had another heavy week and found myself 2 weeks behind schedule. On June 27, I should have been working on Chapter 7. In reality I was working on the beginning of Chapter 5. Ugh.

This week, the week according to my goals set in mid-may should have seen me working on Chapter 9, actually saw me finishing chapter 6 on Monday. But then for whatever reason, I got inspired. Chapter 7 was pounded out in just 3 days, and I am now about 20% through Chapter 8. By mid-week next week I’ll probably be on Chapter 9.

One might wonder why I’m tracking my progress in this way. After all, a novel is a creative exercise, why burden myself with chapter deadlines of my own whim? When it’s done it’s done, why keep a stringent regiment of writing for an hour each day? And why even have a chapter outline forcing myself to put certain plot elements in at certain times. That doesn’t sound very creative, expressive, or spontaneous now does it?

Damn right it doesn’t sound that way – because if I did just sorta “go with the flow”, there is a great chance that this thing would never be done. We’ve all probably seen the following Family Guy clip, but it’s worth watching:

When I originally watched that, years ago, I thought it was funny. Now it gives me what some would call the “douche chills“. I don’t know how other fiction writers with 1 book under their belt feel, but as a writer in other contexts I know that if I don’t have some sort of structure to my own work, I could easily become like Brian in the clip above. Incidentally in a recent episode Brian finishes his book, after many years. I don’t want to take that chance, I want this damn thing to be done at some point! So in order to do that, I’m keeping on a schedule, and posting regular updates.

Second of all, I’ve decided to let you guys in on a few pieces of info regarding the book. Why? Well to keep you interested damnit! I realize my “only tell you the title” thing is a bit annoying. Originally this was because I was going to incorporate reader ideas into the book and didn’t want you to try to answer in a way that would change the plot. Not that I think it would have occurred – but I figured I’d keep it vague to encourage spontaneous responses from you guys.

Well for the most part, asking questions flopped. I have a few good ones which I’m saving and will probably put in during revisions of the book, but in general I stopped asking when people stopped responding. Some even thought I abandoned the project all together, which thankfully I did not.

So what tidbits am I going to tell you? Well I’m going to answer a few questions on here that others have asked me before.

Question: So you’re writing a Science Fiction novel right? you’re a computer geek yourself, and a Sci Fi fan, so that’s what it’s about right? I bet it’s set far in the future!
OK, this one amazed me since more than one person asked it. I’m sad to say this to all you sci fi hopefuls, but the book is not Science Fiction. It does feature a highly improbable plot (Of course if it featured a probable plot it would be pretty damn boring right?), and it IS set in the future. How far in the future you ask? About 2 years. Sorry, not much has changed in my 2 years in the future history.

Question: Is it about you?
So the story is written in the first-person, which means through the eyes of my main character. While he shares a few things in common with me (for example, at the start of the book his job involves some of the things I’ve done in the past to make a living), he isn’t me. For one thing, he’s older. They say you should write what you know, so in that sense many of the characters have aspects to their personality that are like me, but I wouldn’t say anyone in the book is patterned off of me or anyone I know. That being said, I do have one character engage in some rather odd behavior I once witnessed a friend do. Why? Because it was funny to watch at the time and thus funny to write about from a slightly different perspective.

Question: When will I get to read it?!?
Ah, you want to actually read the book so you can validate all those feelings of mediocrity I feel by telling me it’s “OK”. Sure, we can do that. Once the first draft is done, and the prologue and first chapter are revised, I’ll be making them available for free. You’ll find information on that when it’s time, hopefully toward the end of September.

Third of all, and last, Why the hell am I doing this?

This is a question I’ve gotten and I think it really deserves more than just a paragraph to explain.

So I’m a part-time computer geek and full-time psychologist (Some times I use the fancy term “Behavioral Economist” when I’m actually studying financial decisions, but mostly I’ll just say I’m a researcher or psychologist). On my wall hangs various degrees that look very nice, and buried away I have awards and certificates related to my writing for Windows Phone Thoughts and my enthusiasm for Microsoft products. I also have dozens of odd-ball websites and videos out there. But I don’t have any background in fiction, have never taken a creative writing class, and have never shown any interest in novel writing before. So why now? Good question.

I’m writing this book for 3 reasons:

1. I’ve always wanted to write something substantial (yes, as someone pointed out to me, I suppose I’m not counting my dissertation) and interesting to read. I just never had a good idea before. The author note in the book will lay out how I got this idea, and tortured half-started writing projects on my hard drive and testify that I’ve started projects in the past that have never gotten even 1/20th as far as Mandate has. Call it my “Bucket List” or whatever you want, but at some point I want to be able to say I wrote a novel. It just sounds cool.

2. Here’s the goal that appeals to my computer side. I’m really curious how one goes about self-publishing a book in both physical and electronic form. Is it really possible for Joe Schmo (or Jon Westfall) to wake up one day and start writing, and months later have their product available in respectable book sellers or at least in a form that looks like a real book. If it’s promoted, does it really have a chance of becoming even slightly successful (by the way, my definition of success would be to sell it to 3 people whom I haven’t met – that would be cool). So in order to find out how the whole self-publishing thing works in 2010, I need to have something to self-publish.

3. Here’s the goal that appeals to my psych side: This project gets me writing on a regular schedule and used to sitting down and creating something. After writing fiction, which is completely made up, taking theories I already have developed and tested and getting them written down should be easier. After all, I already know the entire plot of a research paper, whereas Mandate has been developing in a rather looser fashion (In Week 1 of writing I knew the rough plot, but details don’t get filled in until much later, and I’m still not completely sure the details of how the protagonist overcomes the actions of the antagonist). In short, this summer writing project is fun and hopefully helpful. If reason 3 doesn’t work out though, it was still fun.

So that’s why I’m writing.  So to Recap this long post: You now know a bit more about the book than just the title. It’s called Mandate, it’s not science fiction, it’s set 2 years in the future, and I’m not in it (Although I’m seriously considering giving myself a cameo as “guy on the train” or something like that). I’m writing it because I want to, and I want to learn more (Sorta like why I bought a bunch of VoIP hardware a few years ago to teach myself about VoIP technology). Lastly, If you’ve made it through this post so far, you’ll also be richly rewarded for your time spent by getting sneak previews and more tidbits in the future. How so? Well, because you’ll know about the Newsletter I’m starting to blast out Mandate Updates. So Sign up now, and get the inside scoop as a weirdo psychologist geek works on the second-half of his first novel.