Friday, June 28, 2013

January - June 2013: Workspaces

Since I decided to write full time in 2009 I've constantly refined, moved, and defined my workspace. More than just moving things around, I've gone from various chairs, to a standing desk, and back to a sitting desk. The state of my workspace has become a window into my work and my own well being. 

I didn't abandon the standing desk because it wasn't a good set up for me. I still have it sitting in the basement in the event I want to go back to it. I was tired after the first six months of the year and the thought of standing for 8-10 hours a day was difficult to reconcile with my physical state. It was a decision arrived at through what I still feel was wisdom garnered over the last three years. 

After a summer of riding my bike, resting, working out, eating better, and finishing a great many things, I'll need my standing desk back I've no doubt. I'll be stronger, and ready to create new things as opposed to relying on my common endurance to merely finish things. My own creative cycle is not unlike a very long day where one wakes, works on their feet, tires, finds a place to sit, and eventually rests. 

Having endured every level of emotional and physical strength over those three years, and keeping track either through word or photograph has helped. Even if you don't keep a log as a creative person, the best thing one can do is take a picture of your workspace and date it. Sometimes looking back at my old workspaces has given me far more perspective than a log ever has. 

Refining the tools one uses and the way they work within ones workflow hasn't been as enlightening for me. I've gone through something like four laptops, two ultrabooks, a netbook, two tablets, a desktop, and two smartphones trying to strike the right balance. The search goes on for the best device (or devices) for my own process and workflow. I think if someone made a device like the Lenovo Yoga, with a backlit keyboard, pen digitizer, sim card equipped, and 12-hour battery life that would be ideal. At least on paper.  

Finally feeling somewhat settled in Wichita I've been productive. Not as much on my Windows Phone game as I would like, but I've done more work on my novels in the last two months than I did in the six months previous. My log and recollection seems to indicate that this is an exaggeration but it certainly feels that I've done more lately than the first part of the year. 

In 2010-2011 I wrote three novellas, all part of the same story. It's a story I've gone through different phases of loathing for (hatred, disgust, etcetera). Previous to moving to Kansas I probably hadn't looked at them for a year. They really did frustrate me that much. Having given the work some space I came back to them and found I liked them better having been granted some much needed perspective in the interim. 

If you're a writer particularly, keep everything. Your work may yet have merit in a different time or in that odd situation where you find yourself to be a different person. Hey, it happens occasionally.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taco Time

Whenever I visit a Taco Time in Boise, I get consistent professional service and a good product for my money. I've gone there for years and never had a bad experience. Over the years it's left me to ponder something though. Why can't I get that level of service and value almost anywhere else?

I've gone through several banks and insurance companies because they weren't even half as competent as your average Taco Time employee. To put things in perspective, being half as good would still be pretty darned good. I've been to all the Taco Time locations, dozens of time,as each over the years and never had them mess up my order - 100% accurate.

I wonder if it has to do with the management or training program? My wife and I had to deal with several banking institutions, insurance companies, and government agencies relative to selling our house and moving from one State to another. In all those dealings, I met not a single individual (other than our Realtor and her Photographer) that possessed the skills Taco Time employees exhibit.

To look at the individuals serving in our Government, rare is the one I would trust to handle a taco or take from me a list of things I desire. Taco Time has slowly become the means by which I measure a great many things. Would I trust this person or organization to make my Taco; fast, friendly, and accurate?

So many times the answer has been no.

I think it would be great if there was a website where people could rate everything by comparing it to their best experience as a consumer or citizen.

How was your experience with X today?

1. Does not live in the same ballpark as Taco Time.
2. Not nearly as good as Taco Time.
3. Almost as good as Taco Time.
4. As good as Taco Time.
5. Better than Taco Time!
It runs through my mind all the time. What would this person (insurance agent, banker, President of the United States) think if they knew I was comparing them to a taco place? Having this as a means to measure my experiences makes life more fun for sure.

In my own work, that is what I strive for... to be as good as the Boise Taco Time restaurants. In a world without heroes, I have at least one.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Surface Pro, 3 Months Later

I've logged just under 100 hours on my Surface Pro and while I have few complaints, it is not a device I would recommend to everyone. The best the device has to offer is not what most people need. I haven't bothered to re-read my old post about this device. Apologies if I end up repeating myself a little bit.
This device is designed for work. While the coating along alloy bits chip and scratch, the device is rugged and can take a beating. I ended up buying a thick laptop sticker and cutting it to size and applying it to the back. Otherwise, the thing is extremely resilient.
I find the four and a half hours of battery life, while nerve-wracking at times, adequate because of how quickly the device takes a charge. As long as I find an outlet once a day, my Surface Pro chugs on.
I've struggled with the pen somewhat. I had downloaded the newer Wacom Driver but recently went back to the original one deployed with the device by Microsoft. Having my cursor trapped in the upper left hand corner of the desktop every other reboot got old, and I don't need pressure sensitivity in Photoshop just yet. Later this summer, when I start painting covers for novels and larger resolution textures for my Windows 8 game, such will become more inconvenient. Sadly, for the portability, there is no better option currently. I like Sketchbook Pro better in some ways anyway. Telling myself that is only going to go so far though.
I've deleted every metro app except for Camera, Skype, Skydrive, and Windows Phone. Microsoft's unwise placement of ads within the included metro applications became intolerable. If I pay good money for a device and an OS, I will not endure ads, period. I've sought out third party or open source replacements wherever I could and found plenty of options. However, I'd like to offer kudos to Microsoft for actually allowing me to delete the apps. Sadly, Apple Inc. won't allow such acts of reason within iOS, you have to resort to hiding them in a folder.  
I ended up procuring both versions of the cover; type and touch. They are both equally useful depending on what I'm doing and they are light enough I put both in my bag. I'm glad my wife coaxed me into eventually getting the touch cover after much prevarication. If I'm using the device casually, to draw, or away from my desk, the touch cover is way better than the type. For serious text generation, the type cover is a better choice.
The regular updates the Surface Pro receives makes it work better and better each month. It runs like my old hand built XP machine, using minimal resources to keep the system running. It so clean and uncluttered that I sometimes prefer it to my W530. I love my workstation, but it works best plugged in with plenty of power and Ethernet cable connected. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, do not pay to upgrade a laptop's WiFi connectivity to anything Intel if you can help it. From what I've seen, they do not support their own hardware and care nothing for the end user.   
I thought space would be an issue, but between getting the 128GB version and mapping a 32GB microSD card, I've got plenty of room to spare, 56 GB to be precise. I could even see someone using this device as a righteous mobile gaming platform by rotating games and being careful with hard drive space. I've had my own delusions of running a Steam Version of Fallout: New Vegas and an Xbox controller with it on the road.
Getting the device to work for me and the effort required trying different configurations, mapping drives, and similar is mostly above the skill level of the casual user. That isn't to say it was rocket science, or that a non-techy couldn't figure those things out. However, they are less likely to do so and would likely endure the faults of the device with no small amount of frustration.
Anyone looking at a Surface Pro should first put a Surface RT or a Lenovo Yoga 11 RT device in their hands first. For most people one of these two devices is going to fit the bill far better than a Surface Pro would. If you find that either of those devices lacks necessary functionality (64 bit OS, Adobe Creative Suite, etcetera) then look at the Surface Pro, but only if you think having pen input is essential. There are some great ultrabooks on the market right now, with more to come if Haswell is half as good as the hype.