The Mets: Killed on the West Coast:

The Mets were in the pennant race when they left for the coast. Now, losing 9 of 11, they seem to be out of it. Weak Mets teams have coast trips like that. The team has been measured and found wanting. I'm sure they can hit better than they did on this trip, and maybe they will come home and put together another streak. But they are down to.500 now, and: here comes kindly August.


The Mets: days of no Baseball...

They tell me it’s All-Star break in baseball. The season is about half over. If the Mets had started the season with their best starting pitchers and Ike Davis, they might be in first place right now. But the grim fact is that they just faced the first-place team they are chasing, Atlanta, at home. This was a great time to win all three games or at least two, to race for the pennant. But the Mets won only the last of the three games. Not a good sign.

July is a fun month in baseball, and this July is when the Mets are going to find out what Beltran’s return can do for them. He is joining them for a trip to the West Coast, the type of trip that breaks the hearts of all Mets fans. Then comes August, the month where teams that aren’t going anywhere sink, sink, and sink. The Mets have two weeks to get buoyant before August sneaks up on them. I’m worried.

Raven’s Gift: Cleaning up Grammar and Syntax:

I published Raven’s Gift almost four months later than I expected. I was printing drafts at CreateSpace, trying to get the cover to look right. I had not reviewed the text for months. In fact, I was afraid to proofread the text again, and here’s why: I’m new to this business of writing novels, and as I work at it, I keep improving. I was afraid that if I took a close look at my first novel, after doing so much more writing, I was liable to want to change everything. However, when the cover looked right, I decided to do one more edit to make sure the text was clean, nearly errorless, etc.

It wasn’t.

I did four more drafts, about one per month, before releasing the novel to publishing. I made about a thousand changes. (How did I do that without introducing many new errors?) I’ll blog about that another time; it’s an interesting challenge.) During those months, I found and corrected some small logical errors in my story. I was very surprised to find any logical errors, but that shows you what the passage of time can reveal.

About 25% of my edits were the kind I had feared: I was improving the text, polishing it in light of my new-found skills. I corrected typos. I changed every single apostrophe in the novel (I count this as one edit), because I had suddenly discovered how to make my word-processor enter left and right single apostrophes instead of ugly ‘vertical’ apostrophes.

And now at last, we come to the interesting part: I made many corrections in punctuation and typography: removing spaces where there should be no space; turning around double quotes that faced the wrong way; being consistent about many minor aspects of English that require consistency. Etc., Etc.

There’s a reason I had so many of these typographical mistakes to deal with at the end, and that reason fascinates me. They crept in there because I have been, by profession, a software developer.

I’ve written mostly for the C and C++ Compilers. These Compilers turn my software text into code that computers can run. The compilers are unforgiving about most careless errors. They catch them. They even catch most misspellings. I’ve been able to concentrate on the logic of my conceptions and not sweat the small stuff when I write software; the compiler is my safety net for little mistakes. (Not all mistakes! I’ll show you a beauty at the end of this blog item.)

Writing fiction is different, as I’ve learned the hard way. I, and my proofreader (if any), have to find all these niggling errors. No computer program will do it for me. When I write a rough draft, I do not worry at all about misspellings or any other kind of error. But once I start to edit, I’m now an eagle-eyed tiger for every little mistake. I don’t want to spend months finding most of the casual blunders at the bitter end, and I know that the compilers I am used to living with can’t help me.

For those of you who can read C code, here’s the sort of typographical mistake you just mustn’t ever make. I needed to copy “CustomerName,” a nul-terminated “char *” string, into a block of memory. I allocated a memory block this size: strlen( CustomerName+1);
That misplaced parenthesis caused me ten hours of agonized debugging, while my program crashed randomly all over the place.


So, How Good are the Mets?

The Mets are better than I expected. This is not the year for me to get that bittersweet experience of rooting for a dreadful team. But I still feel pessimistic about them. They really went someplace in June, but overall...they’re not going anywhere.

The Mets are in second place, playing .553 ball. Although you have to worry about Santana and Pelfrey, the starting core seems much better than the Mets opened the season with. The Mets were hot in June, but chances are, the June record did not reveal the team’s strength. Baseball teams can get hot for a single month. I remember the Mets doing that in a season that saw them barely play .500 ball; yet for all of May, they crushed every opponent.

David Wright is fantastic right now, and I am sure he will have a fine season. But he is a STREAK hitter, and so we can expect some bad streaks, during which he won’t help the team much. The hitting is inconsistent right now, possibly due to the fact that the Mets have to face some very good pitchers, pretty often. This team does not know how to attack a fine pitcher; maybe they will learn.

The Mets' current weakness is a truly poor relief core. Even their closer is unreliable at the moment. (Maybe this is just a bad spot for K-Rod, but he does not seem to be overpowering enough.) When the season started, the relief pitchers seemed great, and now they don’t. To me, this suggests an obvious summary: The Mets’ hitters, starters and relievers are better than average, but only to the extent that they all have to be at their best for the Mets to play .580 ball. All season, these three groups will take turns holding the team back. It’s going to be frustrating to watch the Mets chase after the league leaders.

Ahhh, Raven makes Sales Tax!

One of the ways I sell my novel is: direct. I bought a bunch of copies from CreateSpace (my Print-On-demand website), which I sell at a discount for cash. These occasional sales are fun, and they give me a chance to write dedications. And of course, they incur the obligation to pay sales tax.

My wife warned me that it was going to be ridiculously hard to arrange this, so for some bizarre reason (death wish, perhaps) I started navigating New Jersey’s complex web forms on June 26, at nearly the end of the quarter. (It would be a stretch to call the NJ Website forms a GUI; I think of them more as a DCFPI ( Developer-Centric Fiendish Puzzle Interface).

After several false starts and longholds on the phone, I was on my way. First, and this amazed me: I needed to be a business, not just some guy, to pay sales tax. (And by the way, NJ appears to require every business to have an email address; this must be the 21st century.) Second, I needed a Federal ID to be a state business. While filling out the state from, I was able to click on a link to get the federal ID. That link threw me deep into useless hyperspace. Fortunately, it was effortless to find the federal webpage to get my federal ID before the state form timed out. Eventually I did everything I needed to get my state ID and request a PIN, but by this time, I felt desperate. My “business” would start on July 1, so how was I to pay sales tax for the second quarter?

Eventually I got my PIN and I tried to pay my tax online. Of course I failed, because I was trying to pay before my business’s start date. Two more phone calls yielded a miracle: In moments, my start date was pushed back to before I had actually sold copies of my book. I filed online, and I’m now a legal guy.

I put a quarterly reminder to file in my calendar. (I will alwaays have to file sales tax even if the amount is ZERO, until I close the business, I guess.)