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Summer 2008 Contest
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ScottyDM
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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 8:06 am    Post subject: Summer 2008 Contest Reply with quote

The summer 2008 short story contest is finally here!

The theme is not a theme this time, but a group of techniques. You must use at least one. The title of the theme is Under the Skin. Yea I know, the boilerplate at the top of that page says you may use the theme in a literal or figurative way--this time I'm looking for figurative. But hey, if you can provide a decent literal interpretation of the theme's title, more power to ya!

Some folks are already well versed in these techniques, but they'll be new to others. If you'd like a little more info than what's on that theme page, I've created a little 10,000-word essay on the subject titled Species Characterization in Anthrofiction: Ten Useful Techniques with Examples. I welcome critiques of this essay. I won't make any major changes to it this quarter, but I plan to keep it available on the site. One thing I thought of is to use works from many authors as examples, but I was kinda pressed for time and just grabbed what I had at hand.


Future schedule: I've really messed up the schedule. I like to put the judging period for every fall's contest during November, which is NaNoWriMo's month. That's not going to happen in 2008. In fact the writing period for fall 2008 will stay open until December 6th.

I'll squeeze the schedule in 2009 to get back on track with 8 weeks rather than 2 months for each writing period (mostly) and 4 weeks for each judging period. The exception is to squeeze the summer 2009 writing period down to 7 weeks, but I'll make that theme something easy.


Thanks for your patience, and not lynching me. Very Happy

Scotty

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PrincessB
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yay! Finally! hehe Smile
I've had a story idea floating in my head for a week or so that I was thinking about entering in the contest if it would work with the theme and it certainly will. Now to get it from my mind to in print.

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Kasyl
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2008 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh no!
I've been waiting for this to be announced, and now that it's here, I think your website is down! I keep getting the message when I click on your link that the website cannot be displayed! I need information so I can start writing!
I'll try again later today. Hopefully it will come up as it should.

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Kasyl
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2008 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, I was able to get in about three and a half hours later.
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Kasyl
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2008 9:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's doing it again. I can't open your website! Evil or Very Mad
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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do my own hosting, for myself and others. This is the Reader's Digest version of what happened:

Between 6:00pm Thursday and 6:00pm Friday my SDSL modem went nuts, dropping (briefly) and reconnecting many times (about 3 dozen times total).

At the recommendation of the service tech (in-person visit)--who actually did some things, but as it turned out not very helpful things--I reflashed the firmware in my modem about 6:00pm Friday night.

Thus from about 6:00pm Friday until about 11:00pm Saturday, I had no website service--my incoming port 80 was "stealthed" by the new firmware.

Actually a second guy came out Saturday and gave me a different modem, which fixed some problems, but it too had this stealthing "feature". All my other services were working. Finally a customer called about 8:00pm Saturday and said, "I can get into my website with FTP, but I don't see it with a web browser."

About my 3rd call to the telco on late Saturday night (triggered by that call from my customer), and with even newer firmware in this new modem, I finally stumbled across a setting under WAN configuration that killed the stealth behavior.

So:
Great connection up until Thursday 6:00pm (MST).
Flakey connection from Thursday 6:00pm through Friday 6:00pm.
No connection at all on port 80 (web) from Friday 6:00pm until Saturday 11:00pm.
Great connection again on all ports starting about 11:00pm Saturday night (I hope).


Now for something completely different.

It'd be awesome to get more furries in the contest again. It's kind of drifted toward the writerly crowd. I even had to reject a story this last time because it wasn't anthrofiction. It was teenagers doing teenager type stuff with no hint they were anything but human. Confused

Poo. I hate rejecting stories.

Scotty

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Teric
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice theme this season. Smile I'll see if I can dust off my writing tools.
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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2008 11:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Website Status Report

There is no good time to work on the Anthrofiction Network website, but the first half of the entry period sux less than any other time, so I've been upgrading some of the page code.


User Accounts

This past week the most visible "under construction" area has been the account creation and login system. I took it down last Friday night (the 18th) and only brought it back up Thursday (the 24th), although the login system was only down about 2 days. Part of what I did was to restructure the users database file, and I'm pretty sure I either lost 1 new account (from last week) or 1 account activation due to my clumsiness. My apologies.

The good news is the new users database, and the pages (create and login) that manipulate that file, enjoy a new level of robustness and functionality.


Recent Changes to User Accounts

Account activation: Last quarter some folks signed up for an account, but didn't activate the account--perhaps they lost the e-mail. Now if you attempt to login to an account that's never been activated you get a message saying so and a button you can click to send yourself a fresh activation e-mail. If you're not getting those e-mails you can "jiggle the handle" on your spam blocker settings and tell my system to send you another e-mail.

Password reset: Previously if you tried to login to an account and used the wrong password, you got a message to that effect and an invitation to reset your password--but a note said that feature was not working yet. It works now. The system will auto-generate a password for you then send it and a link, sort of like the activation link, to your e-mail account on record. If you do not click the link you keep your old password, which will prevent pranksters from resetting your password. You must click the link to set the new password. If you don't like that password feel free give it another shot and see what you get next time.

Account classes: Something I'd envisioned, but only now implemented, are different classes of membership--the two biggies being "author" and "reader". Other than readers can't enter the contest, the real difference is how much e-mail either type of account will receive--once I get around to actually sending out e-mails. Someday authors will get 3 to 5 e-mails during the entry period (2 months) and 3 to 5 e-mails during the judging period (1 month); readers will only get the judging period e-mails.

Temporary accounts: Tied up with the idea of account classes is the temporary reader account. This is for the people you authors invite to read and judge stories. Some folks might feel a bit uncomfortable with joining yet another website and the temporary account is for them. Temporary accounts self-destruct on the date shown. Personally I think it'd be great if everyone signed up for an author account.

The old "keep me informed" option: On the old create account form were permanent and temporary accounts. Temporary accounts from last quarter have been destroyed. Temporary accounts from this quarter have been set to temporary reader accounts and only permanent accounts have author status. I don't yet have a way for you to modify your own account. So if you want to enter this quarter's contest and you have a temporary reader account, send me a message and I'll manually change it for you.

Not yet implemented: Unactivated accounts are supposed to self-destruct after 72 hours, but I've not implemented that function yet. It's not a priority because the activation system wasn't robust. So, if you've got an existing account that you cannot log into it because it was never activated, or you forgot the password, try to log in and follow the instructions. If you try to log in and your account seems to be gone, then sign up again; you may use the same e-mail and user name.

Reminder about accounts: Only ONE account per person, ever! If your one account is messed up send me a message and I'll fix it--or delete it (at your request) so you can start over. Thank you.


Other Website Features

Stories: Past stories are not visible at this time. I'm restructuring this part of the site. Showing judging results is a nasty hack and I need something that works and can grow with the site. I've had the old system for 8 quarters now and it just gets harder and harder to manage.

Entry: The story entry system is not functional. I need to completely recode the page for that.

My goal for these two functions is to have them fully working by the half-way point, which is August 9th or so (2 weeks from now).

Coming features: When you're logged in you will now see several new links in the membership section of the website. One is your name and the other is a member list. For now they only lead to placeholder pages, but the concept is that you'll have a profile page and you'll be able to view the profile pages of other members. These will only be visible to those who are logged in. And no, I won't expose anyone's e-mail address. Someday (maybe this quarter) you'll also have a self-management form so you can modify all aspects of your account including e-mail, password, account type, temporary status, etc.

A bug: I noticed a bug at the end of last quarter's judging period. The ballot page cut off ballots precisely 1 hour before the actual deadline. Gotta fix that!

There are other things that will happen behind the scenes.


Conclusions

I'm a chip design engineer, not a software engineer, so this has been a learning experience for me. I know I did things the hard way in the past and so I try something new each time I jump back in to make major changes to the site. My new page coding approach for the polymorphic pages (account creation and login, ballots, and the upcoming story entry page) is far easier to code and maintain than my original approach.

The site needs to talk to a real database too. The new page code is better suited to using something like MySQL on the back end than the old page code.

Thanks for your patience.

Scotty

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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2008 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Status of the Website

The Past Contests section of the site has been completely redesigned and coded. What I'd done before to calculate scores and present the results was just bad, bad, bad. The results were true and correct (I'm pretty sure), but how I arrived at and presented them was 100% hand generated. For example each story had a companion hand-generated file that contained the stuff above the story (the results and graph) in one lump, and the stuff below the story (the comments) in another lump. In fact the results graphs are just a picture of the results graphs. Mad Gawd, but it's crufty (1)!

Also my previous stories database file was structured for judging the contests, not for presenting the results afterwards. So attacking the problem from what to do after the judging has been productive.

I've finally done what I've always knew I should do--that is use one set of contest pages during the contest and a different set for after. I still need to create a new results database and a new comments database to get rid of those bloody awful hand generated "lumps" files. I've started this but haven't finished it. Anyway, my new story page in the Past Contests section contains the hooks to get into these new database files... once I create them. Meanwhile the page is smart enough to figure out it needs to use the "lumps" files for now. Thus, I'll be able to upgrade one contest quarter at a time to the new system.

To accomplish all this I had to re-architect the stories, contests, and rules database files; create past contests and global variables database files; and merge the old author records into the new users database file. Along the way I renamed the contest IDs (the necessity for doing this involves alien abduction and a leprechaun, but not at the same time), and I foolishly renumbered the story IDs then had to re-renumbered them back again. Rolling Eyes

since it'll be a couple of weeks before I get back to working on the Past Contests section, I'll hack up a solution inside those stupid "lumps" files to add the private comments to the author (visible only to the author)--but only for spring 2008. The other quarters will have to wait till I get a real solution.


What's Next?

The Short Story Contest section, of course!

The theme and rules pages are at 100% The main and story pages still need work, but look okay on the surface. The entry pages need to be ripped and rewritten in their entirety. Finally I probably need to tweak the ballot page.

The goal for having these things done (except maybe the ballot page) is August 9th, which is the half-way mark in the entry period. Of course I'll need to have the ballot page at 100% before I can open judging in September.

I'd also like to get the member profile page done as well as a page that lets you modify your profile. I won't start on this until after the 9th though. Stuff in the Membership section doesn't really affect the contest.

There's more, of course, but this is good for the next two weeks.


Scotty

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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 5:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Site Status: 2008-Aug-16

The story entry system seems to be 100% functional. Actually, I'm sick of looking at it, so if there are any not-so-great bits, I don't see them. Confused


Features of the Story Entry System

Enter a story. If it's too small or large you can still save it on the system. You can save a story as an entry or with "try it" status (not an entry).

Then you can come back later and edit your saved story or change its status.

Or you can come back later and delete your story.

When you pop into the Step 1 page and you have any saved stories, you see them in a drop-down list.


Limitations

You can only enter a story during the contest entry period. Limit, 2 stories.

Your story is tied to a particular contest quarter. Someday I'd like to decouple this, but that's not going to happen any time soon.


Little White Lie

The Step 1 page says you must click the "Submit Story" button on the Step 3 page before the close of the entry period. This is true, but only because I'm too lazy to change the outer logic layers of the page. Your actual recorded entry time is when you click the "Forward to Step 3" button on the Step 2 page. I suppose it might be nice to move the cutoff to Step 2, but that would require I redesign the outer logic and I'm sick of looking at this page.

The bottom line is, leave yourself some time and don't try to enter a story with only a few minutes left until deadline. Also, it might be wise to try out the system a few days before deadline so you understand how it works. You can always delete your "try it" story. Wink


Pain and Woe

This is the third generation of my "webification" code--that is code that turns text + BB code into standards compliant HTML. Going to generation 2 (this spring) introduced a few minor errors. My work this month has removed those errors and made the code far more modular and robust. I'm a learnin'.

Webification is now a two-way process. I store stuff (stories, ballot comments, and autobiographical comments from the join form) as HTML. To edit I simply pluck it out of storage and convert it back to text + BB code. The process is fully symmetric. This will allow me to add new features in the future, such as the ability to edit your profile page... oh, and profile pages are on my to-do list.


Onward, to the Future!

Profile pages, the ability to edit nearly every aspect of your account, pull the ballots from generation 2 code up to generation 3 (that's a priority), create some sort of system to automagically process ballot data and generate results in a format the rest of the website can use (that's massive). These things would be nice to have done by the start of the judging period, but I've come to realize that each feature takes about a week to implement. So we'll see.

I also wanted to cobble up a kludge to put private comments into last quarter's results, which should only take a day, or less, but I've had my head too far into the entry system to get around to it.

Scotty

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PrincessB
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like you've been very busy. Are your eyes permanatly crossed yet?
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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

PrincessB wrote:
Sounds like you've been very busy. Are your eyes permanatly crossed yet?
No, but my "tail" is numb. Confused

------
The question of oversized stories and the "try it" option of the new entry system came up on another message board. I realized that according to the rules someone could enter an oversized story--if they were clever and careful. Rather than change the rules I thought I'd tell everyone how to do it.

"Try it" status is for authors who want to experiment with the entry system before they have a story at 100%. When you upload a story as an entry it triggers the system to send me an e-mail, whereas "try it" does not. Later you may change the status. Either upload type allows you to come back and update your story as long as all changes take place before the entry deadline. After entry deadline I do a little pre-judging and conversion work on entered stories (for one, I create PDFs of all entered stories), and I delete all the "try it" stories. Once this is done I open the judging phase.


The last few days I haven't even looked at site code. I've wanted to work on a few of my stories--one in particular. However, yesterday I wasn't very inspired. Sad Tonight I went mad. Absolutely mad! And got quite a bit done. I'm within striking distance of completing the final act (the first still needs work).

I'd like to upload my Act III (the final act) as an example for the contest. If I'm going to do it, I should do it soon. What good is an example if no one can study the thing until after deadline? Anyway, I was contemplating my whole story and thought maybe something like it could be entered in parts. I'd never even considered anything like this, and there is nothing in the rules to forbid it.

Each author may enter up to two stories per quarter. They do need to have a beginning, middle, and end--so the typical novel chapter would not work unless the author rewrote it as a complete story (for example the beginning, middle, and end of some sub-plot from the novel).


To enter a story in two parts will be a challenge. First you'll need to find a natural breaking point. Second and even more challenging will be to make the two parts be pretty decent stories on their own. That is, if someone read only one story would it make any sense? Of course the payoff of reading both parts would be that they present a satisfying whole.

The danger is that I might reject one or both for not being a complete story. But the bigger danger is the readers might think you're trying to cheat, and blast you on the score.

It would probably be easier, and certainly safer, to restructure your story so it fits in 3500 words. Leave out a section, or tell the thing from a different point of view, or be a little less ambitious, or spend less focus on secondary characters. Plus setup and backstory are usually boring unless well-integrated into the story. Typically you can just delete those bits.


I think I'll mention your question and my answer on the other forums I use to publicize the contest. At least fellow authors won't be surprised if someone enters a two-part story, and more important they won't feel cheated because you got to do it and they didn't.



So there you go! Write a two-part story if you have the nerve. Or just hate the idea and crucify those stories that dare to show up in two parts.

Someday, but not before 2009, I will have different size categories and at that time I will specifically exclude multi-part stories.

Scotty

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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

FINALLY!

I finished a sample story... and with only a day-and-a-half left for folks to study it as an example of what I expect.

Fortunately I have that essay, which is probably better because it touches on more aspects of "more than skin deep".

Entry remains open until Sunday afternoon.

Scotty

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PrincessB
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 09, 2008 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been trying to go to the site today and keep getting a "You are not authorized to view this page" error.
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ScottyDM
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

PrincessB wrote:
I've been trying to go to the site today and keep getting a "You are not authorized to view this page" error.
Ah yes... Was a wee bit of a problem with the ballot page and I tried to quickly patch it, but it didn't want to be patched. I'll need to burrow into the code. Official announcement...


Well... the ballot page is messed up now, but I've opened the judging period anyway so y'all can start reading the stories. Seven, plus my sample story. Very Happy I'll get the ballot page working ASAP.

Quote:
Burn: The Legend of the Last Howl

“Why!? Why did it have to be this way?” Corta asked herself as she fled the scene behind her. Her pack – mate and pups – were no longer living. The hunters had come. Or were they hunters? Their eyes did not seem to have a soul flitting across them. “What went wrong?”

As the wolf ran, she soon felt her will to live slowly fade as her tears flowed. Her heart was broken, and, possibly, beyond repair. …

Quote:
Star-Crossed Lovers

Across the heavens plummets a large ball of fire, scratching an orange and red trail through the starlit sky. Down into a forest it races, crashing and scattering debris over a vast distance. The hunting party witnesses the star fall and makes its way to the site. The hunting party witnesses the star fall and makes its way to the site. By the time they arrive, the heat and fire have dissipated. …

Quote:
Enemies or Lovers?

The two warriors stare at each other from across the battlefield. The wind blows curtains of smoke over the carnage left by long days of fierce fighting. Hazy light glints off the blood covered metal of their katanas. The tigress stands at the edge of a forest, her tail twitching as she readies for her assault. The vulpine stands with his back to a city, the stout defender of his people. …

Quote:
Food

Ambershanks Runetotem wrinkled his black-button nose, blood-soaked whiskers shaking merrily before his slitted blue eyes. The stench of kodo blood and flesh was a welcome assault on all his senses, as though the very touch fueled the burning in his legs, the smell pumping the rapid beating of his heart, the taste shooting pulses of electricity down his spine. …

Quote:
Small Town Strong

This town was once a quiet and safe little place that many were proud to call home. I know it don’t look that way anymore, but then you’re new, not long ago this town was very different. Your young could ride their bikes down the road to the general store and you knew no harm would befall them. You could leave your home unguarded and know everything would be as it should when you returned. …

Quote:
Vincent Newberry

Not a whole lot goes on here in our sleepy little mountain town. Not even much tourism, to be sure; it’s as desolate as desolate can be. But that’s Nevada for you; only exciting stuff that happens here stays in Vegas, so I hear. And if you want to know about change, well… change here is about as common as a purple antelope. And so usually when it comes, it’s something big. Wouldn’t have it any other way.


Quote:
New Tricks

Locke perched tensely in the back seat of the cruiser, his furiously working nose pressed to cracked window. He longed to be out there among the officers inspecting the ditched getaway vehicle. The perp left three people dead at a convenience store shootout. Even now, the metallic tang of fresh blood stayed with him, urging him to action. A familiar figure approached the cruiser and he whined with thrilled anticipation.


Didn't bother to link to my sample since it's not in the contest to be judged, but I wouldn't mind a bit of feedback. Wink But I really should finish Act I and submit the whole thing here.

Have fun!

Scotty

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