Friday, August 19, 2011

Finishing a Book

If you haven't ever finished writing a book, this is what you can expect if you ever do.

Step 1: Stare at the blinking cursor in disbelief. The mind floods with all sorts of chemicals that make you feel awesome and anxious at the same time.

Step 2: Like anything you create, you'll ponder whether or not it will teach others, make friends or just generally cause trouble.

Step 3: You'll want to print the darn thing out as quickly as you can, so you can hold it. The printer will (of course) be out of toner, so you'll have to go to the closest office barn and pay way too much for black gooey stuff for a machine to shoot out onto your paper.

Step 4: The darned thing will get printed out (finally) and you'll realize that you should have gone through it more first, added page numbers and other details that would help in the editing.

Step 5: You'll go and write something ridiculous on your blog or pat yourself on the back via Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etcetera.

Step 6: Suddenly, that sinking feeling will wash over you as you realize it's a first draft. Thousands of words you'll have to go through, over and over again, to make it right.

Step 7: The weight of a few thousand words rests a little lighter on whatever metaphysical force keeps you going. A little of what you were put on the Earth to do... is done.

Step 8: Smile.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lenovo E420, Ubuntu + Windows 7

I grew tired of running my WP7 developer tools and Ubuntu inside VMs and decided I would start looking for a dedicated Windows machine. After my iMac died, I had to cut my usual six months of looking down to about ninety days. I wanted something that had a great keyboard and would seamlessly run Windows 7 and Ubuntu 11.04 side by side.

After some looking around I found the Lenovo E420 on Amazon for $499.99, provided by Tiger Direct. The specs on the machine were exactly what I was looking for, something running on fairly low wattage, great keyboard and cheap. I was reasonably concerned about dual booting Ubuntu and Windows 7 on it, even though everything should have led me to conclude that a Lenovo would work like a champ.

The only one that seems to have more Linux certified laptops than Lenovo was Dell. I did spend a fair amount of time on the Dell website, and found lots of machines with the right specs, but horrible keyboards and design otherwise. I decided at length to go with the Lenovo even though I'd read about people having problems with the wireless.

It arrived promptly. I was amazed at how light it is, even for a 14" laptop, it's very easy on the arms. I was surprised when I opened the box and pulled the laptop out. It clicked on and worked in every respect on the Windows side from the moment I booted it up. As I suspected from the pictures and reviews, the keyboard was excellent, even better than my MacBook Pro.

After I loaded Ubuntu 11.04 and updated it via ethernet cable, everything worked perfectly, except the wireless. Here's what I had to do:

I opened Terminal in Ubuntu and typed:

sudo gedit etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

This opened the file in gedit. I scrolled to the bottom and added this:

blacklist acer_wmi

I saved the file and rebooted. Went ahead and peaked in the bios to see if there was a wifi switch built in. Someone on one of the forums recommended I turn that stuff off. It, of course, gacked my wireless abilities and I had to go back and turn them on. In the aftermath, the wireless popped on and everything worked in Ubuntu.

Disclaimer: I'm not a Linux guy and found that fix on the Ubuntu forums. That said, I would strongly recommend you avoid buying anything with the intent to run Linux if you're squeamish about getting into Terminal to fix things. As a writer I like Ubuntu for the customizable workspace and text editors, and use Gimp (image editor) every once in a while.

My experience with the laptop since has been pleasant. It's clunky and likes to PC-speaker-beep whenever you unplug things, the sort of fun and irreverent stuff you don't get from a Mac. There were other surprises as well.

The Good:

This thing never gets hot. Even running a pretty graphically intense game for a couple of hours, it barely even gets warm except near the vents. No heat comes through the bottom to your legs or through the keyboard to your hands.

The Keyboard is, of course, awesome, something Lenovo is known for. The only way to improve it were to make it backlit. Trackpad and old style pointer are the good you'd expect as well. Two-finger scrolling and such works just fine in both Ubuntu and Windows.

Battery life is decent for a 6 cell, particularly considering what I paid for it.

This thing is, for the most part, tough. All the ports are tight with no wiggle, no flex anywhere save a few places that don't really matter. It's very light in spite of feeling very durable.

For $500, it performs surprisingly well as a gaming machine. I don't have to have my games set to the highest settings to be satisfied though. It runs World of Warcraft at 30FPS with default settings at "Good" like a champ.

The Bad:

The screen has a terrible viewing arc. You need to be looking at it straight on otherwise it's washed out. The colors are very muted as well. A multimedia machine this is not.

The optical drive feels extremely flimsy. I wouldn't go using it as a caddy for your 20 oz. coffee mug, it'd snap right off.

No Bluetooth.

Other Stuff:

The speakers aren't bad. Better than I thought they would be for five hundred bucks.

The Lenovo bloatware isn't too obtrusive. I haven't removed anything except Norton Anti-virus because everything else hasn't gotten in my way yet.

Plenty of ports for what I do, and decently placed on the laptop.

For $500, I couldn't find anything that had the combination of features this device possessed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Writing Process

Step 1: Write a 5,000 word outline.

Step 2: Take three weeks using the outline to write a 75,000 word book.

Step 3: Take three months reading your own text and sharing with a few trusted folks to edit and revise the content.

Step 4: Agonize about the content, overburdening your psyche.

Step 5: Rewrite the one chapter you despise setting off a chain-reaction of plot inconsistencies.

Step 6: Spend considerable time assured that you've ruined the work and that it should find a dusty home with "the others".

Step 7: Consumed by the remorse a creative person feels having abandoned one of their children, revisit the work until you've fixed all the plot consistencies.

Step 8: Return to the version of the book written before you rewrote the chapter you hated. Y'know, the one that seems perfectly fine now, in the context of the unaltered plot that makes more sense having revisited the marvelous outline you wrote.

Step 9: Look for rogue and/or absent commas, punctuation and other minutia that 95% of the people who read the work won't notice are amiss.

Step 10: Gaze down upon the finished fictional work and wonder how the devil you're going to get it published and through whom.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Diablo III Debacle?

Got some work done today but I couldn't help myself. I've been caught up in some serious anticipation waiting for a new Blizzard game called Diablo III. I loved the first two.

I'm a fan.

The first two games boasted free online play with other folks, single player offline play, whatever you wanted, on your own terms. You couldn't pay real money to level a character or upgrade your features. The first two Diablo games were so utterly bereft of the bullshit and industry shenanigans that they are enshrined on virtually every computer I own, even if I don't sit and play them for hours like I used to. I loved the mods people put out that let you mess with the game after you'd passed it seventeen times with each class.

Diablo III will have none of that from what I hear.

Online Play Only.
Cash for Item Marketplace.
No User Modifications.

I'm an angry guy right now anyway, and maybe some of how I feel is misplaced rage.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Amnesia Project

Last year I wrote a novella about a guy with amnesia (yeah, another one) that turned into a Storytelling Sciences setting. I wasn't really sure what to do with it. Having spent the last couple of days going back through everything I wrote toward the project, I feel like it needs picked up again. After a short conversation with a couple of friends it sounds like I may have a couple of interested readers.

Aside from the clarity one gains looking at their work one year later, it's an enjoyable read. All the pressure I placed on myself back then to write the book in the first place has evaporated. Just me and the text.

The novella is ten chapters written from the perspective of the three main characters, each taking their turn to tell the story. I really like having to switch gears as a writer to do this, but I'm not sure my readers will agree. Even if the first book isn't that great, it'll help me firmly establish those characters in my mind and portray them better in subsequent books.

I may not even publish the first novella for that reason. Yeah, see my other posts about the preparatory writing one does to actually pen that commercial work. Given that each of the characters are so decidedly separate from your standard person made up of human experiences, the process has begun to make more sense in that regard.

I had hoped to have readable copies by tonight but I want to actually finish the novella. Comparing my outline to what I actually have, I'm something like 12,000 words shy of my target length, two days of work. Guess I'll have to see if anyone is up for weekend coffee and some cheesy science fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Boise MacLife, Aftermath

I got up this morning and said a short prayer that my day would go well as I headed down to do battle with MacLife. I arrived at their downtown location with the intent to inform the technician to halt all actions relative to our service dispute until I arrived at their Overland (30 minute drive from my house) location for talks with their owners.

I entered to find that not one, but both owners were there, a suitably rare occurrence I'm told. Apparently their roof was leaking over one of their displays and an employee had called in with a Kidney infection. Behold the wonderful and terrible power of prayer.

It was clear to me they were not going to let me have the screen. They believed that the PMU portion of the logic board which regulated voltage had gone bad and that the machine was not long for this world. I accepted this explanation as that was part and parcel to my suspicions back on the 15th of last month.

I felt that I at least owed them a $49 diagnostic fee and nothing else because the remainder could have been avoided with an accurate diagnosis. They still wanted to make an attempt to acquire my screen and wrestle with Apple to that end. One owner felt it was worth a short while the other believed it was a lost cause. I tended to fall somewhere in the middle as usual.

I had a nice conversation with the owners, asked them about the new Macbook Air and bantered a little bit. Turns out they are really knowledgeable in that regard. Then, one of them helped me carry what remained of my iMac back to my car.

I think that the lesson I would take from all this is to listen to yourself more than you do anyone else. Had I followed my instincts and had the display removed before I took it home, I would have avoided a lot of trouble... assuming they still had my screen when they made the promise initially.

In the end I still have a computer I can't use for work and I'm light $49 dollars I expected to pay anyway. That they allowed my computer to leave their shop less functional than when it entered only proves they don't hold themselves to the same standards I would hold myself. Simply, I navigate this life attempting to do no harm.

I would caution anyone that wishes to use MacLife's services to get everything you are told in writing, make sure you ask lots of questions and follow your instincts. In the end, I haven't tried visiting the Apple Store in the Mall for service so I can only say that MacLife is likely the lesser of those two evils if you need repairs done to your Mac. If there is a third option for having a Mac repaired in Boise, I'd love to hear about it.