Adventures in Tech

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Writing is always going to be difficult, one way or another. If it was easy to write brilliantly, we’d all do it and no author would ever have a crisis of confidence, or hangups about plot or character.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are plenty of books that will tell you they have a surefire method to make the process of writing easier, and just like them there’s a lot of software geared towards helping the struggling author sort their ideas out and get them written down.

This week my struggles have been of a different nature. My dear old netbook, veteran of a dozen plays and several e-books, has reached the point of no return. After rejecting Windows 10 over fifteen times, it finally caved and installed the new OS, resulting in a twenty minute start-up time, followed by enough time to brew fresh coffee in between opening programs, or switching from one thing to another. This could not stand, but since this is a Dell Netbook, there’s no chance of upgrading the hardware (not at my level of expertise, anyway…)

There were two options:

  1. Buy a new Netbook. $399 or more.
  2. Experiment with reviving the netbook as a Chromebook for free.

Option 1 was my favourite, so I looked at my finances. Option 2, then.

Now, I’m not very technically gifted. But I had the distinct advantage here of starting with a machine that could get no more broken. Even if I totally borked this installation, things would be no worse than they already were. Yay.

I did some careful research…well, ok, I Googled a couple of things and then took my folks out for the day.

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(My parents are visiting from the UK.)

I asked about on Google Plus and people seemed moderately ok about the idea of working on a Chromebook. Not overwhelmingly enthusiastic, but it seemed that I would at least be able to do SOMETHING on the new machine which is, as stated, a step up.

I visited the Neverware site to use their “Cloudready” software. The step by step guide I was using really wanted me to understand that I would be losing everything from the hard drive of the machine I was Chroming, but that was ok with me. If I hadn’t backed it up by now, I didn’t need it. Probably.

Things weren’t quite as easy as the guide suggested, but I was able to manage. My main issue was that, once I had created the boot disc on the USB stick (wait, shouldn’t that be “boot stick”? What kind of world are we living in where people need a boot stick?), the machine didn’t recognise the file. I had to restart the computer (as we know, a twenty minute process) and then catch that brief moment when you’re offered boot options if you hit F12.

Once I did that, Cloudready took over and the process began. In about an hour it was done, though I wasn’t entirely sure when I was supposed to remove the USB. As a result I wasn’t actually working on the real installation for the first twenty minutes, but the one running from the stick, however that works.

A whole day later, and I have the machine a little better organised. I have some music and movies stored on the local hard drive (more or less), since I’ll often be working on the machine while it’s offline. I’ve ensured that the Google Docs software is configured to allow me to work on files while offline too, and the whole thing runs a lot faster than it used to. It’s still not as fast as a new machine, but I can switch it on and be working in five minutes instead of twenty. And actually working, not poking at the keyboard and swearing while I wait for it to catch up.

The big test will come in a couple of weeks, when an aspect of my library work will give me three hours of peace and uninterrupted quiet to work on the final third of the latest play. I’m going to be using the Chromebook. As long as I have figured out exactly who DID dun it for my whodunnit, I’ll be relying on my revitalised machine to get the words down.

After another visit to the pub…

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Favourite books of the week

Since I raved about LJ Cohen’s space masterpiece last week (or thereabouts) it seems only fair that I mention two books that have been delighting me since then.

Available from Amazon

A colleague at the library asked me if I’d read this book, and I had to admit I’d picked it up a couple of times but not committed to reading it. Finally convinced by the presence of Toffos on the cover, I took it home and read half of it that night, only putting it down because 1am is too late to be reading when you have a 6am start.

The book is a collection of letters written by Nina to her sister Victoria. Nina is working as a nanny to a couple of boys in London in the 1980s, and the letters really concern themselves mostly with everyday life, which sounds dull, but the family live over the street from Alan Bennett (who drops in regularly for tea), a few doors along from Jonathan Miller (who lends them a saw to trim their Christmas tree) and round the corner from a famous novelist.

The everyday life that Nina describes is crazy and strange, and yet completely believable. You only catch a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher once or twice, and there’s no mention of The Falklands War, or Northern Ireland, or unemployment (which are my abiding memories of the 80’s). It’s just the real (and sometimes surreal) life of a single Mum and her two boys, along with the young woman who helps them out with the little things, like cooking and playing, but not cleaning.

And it’s a lot more funny and interesting than I made it sound. Sorry.

Available from Amazon

Continuing the theme of real lives from a time I remember, I picked up Simon Pegg’s autobiography expecting the kind of detail-lite life story that I’ve often read in other celeb’s books. But this is not the case here. While the non-linear structure can make it tricky to parse the actual timeline of Simon’s life (he leaps about through time talking about his developing love of acting and comedy, the girls he’s loved and the major influences on his life and his work), this is a book worth reading. He uses his academic chops to dissect the appeal of Star Wars to the generation upon which it burst, and while I’ve read similar explanations in drier books, Pegg’s love of the movie and his unapologetic dislike of the prequels is backed up with solid reasoning. He’s famous for a quote about being a geek… Hang on, I’ll go find it….

This attitude comes through strongly in the book – Simon has discovered things he loves, and he doesn’t see why they should be treated with any less reverence than sports fanaticism, or classical theatre.

Another thing worth mentioning is his theory of microcosmic accretion (although that’s my term for it). He’s looking at the reason he became part of a group that went on to such success – Edgar Wright, David Walliams, Jessica Hynes and many others. His theory is that similar interests and life views filter people towards one another, which I guess only works if you embrace those loves and are willing to stand up for them. He’s discovered that both he and Edgar Wright were in the same movie theatre for the premiere of “Akira” in the UK when they were in their teens, though they didn’t meet and begin collaborating until years later. He and the woman who ultimately became his wife had many friends in common and had even been in the same locations a couple of times before actually meeting.

We (outsiders) often look at groups that change their chosen field and remark how strange it is that so many people of a similar mind should emerge at the same time – Monty Python, or George Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola. Pegg’s theory is that this is not Fate, but the inevitable consequence of admitting the things you love, and giving full rein to your enthusiasms.

I’m in awe of the fact that he’s met so many of his childhood idols – Leonard Nimoy, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Gillian Anderson, JJ Abrams. It seems the only one he missed out on was Lee Majors. There may be an argument that fortune plays a part in his success, but if so, it’s a very minor one. Simon identified his loves early on, and worked hard to achieve his success. Stand up is no easy route to take, and along the way he’s made sure he kept his friends around him and makes no secret of his admiration for the talents of others.

 

 

Slow progress all round

Workshop progress

There seems to be something of a tradition on this blog of not talking about Fathers’ Day until it’s done. Well, it was over a week ago, so I think we’re safe now….

This year I didn’t ask for presents. I asked for help. My workshop had reached crisis point, and it was so messed up, I couldn’t actually do any work in it. My latest project (Handles, from Doctor Who) has been mostly made in the kids’ playroom, and the bathroom reno has been carried out in situ.

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Handles still has a long way to go….

Anyway, the point of this post, apart from the opportunity to publicly thank my entire family for helping me sort out my crisis of a workshop, was to remind everyone that getting things done often means getting other things done first. With a tidy workshop, I’ve been able to get a whole load of pending things done, because I know where everything is (as opposed to “I know I saw that a week ago…”). Clearing out the junk meant I was doing a tip run, which means the other junk waiting got taken away.

Bathroom comparison

I like to think the bathroom progress is more noticeable..

Best of all, I feel things are possible again. I wish it was as easy to clear out the clutter from my brain, and leave only the useful, clean and modern tools. But if I can’t do that, I can be sure that the workspace I go to is ready for me to work in.

The world today…

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Man kills people with bananas.

Some people: Hey, bananas are dangerous. Let’s make it difficult to get them.

Other people: THEY WANT TO TAKE AWAY OUR BANANAS!

Some people: No. You can have bananas, but people are being killed with them. Shouldn’t we have a limit on bananas, that….

Other People: I’M ALLOWED TO HAVE BANANAS! IT’S MY RIGHT TO HAVE BANANAS! I NEED BANANAS TO PROTECT MYSELF FROM OTHER PEOPLE WITH BANANAS WHO AREN’T AS SENSIBLE ABOUT THEM AS I AM. ALSO, MUSLIMS!

Some people: But look, these people who have killed people with bananas – they bought those bananas legally. It doesn’t matter WHY they killed people with them. Let’s make it harder to buy bananas, so fewer crazy people can use them, right?

Other people: I own bananas. I have not killed anyone with them. Therefore bananas are not the problem. Millions of people own bananas. If people legally owning bananas were the problem, everyone would be dead. Did I mention Muslims?

Some People: But if we restrict banana ownership…

Other people: DON’T TAKE MY BANANAS!

Some people: We’re not…

Other people: YOU’RE ALL BANANA-STEALING FREEDOM HATERS! BANANAS ARE WHAT MAKES THIS COUNTRY GREAT. ONLY GOOD GUYS WITH BANANAS CAN PROTECT US FROM BAD GUYS WITH BANANAS.

Some people: There’s no evidence of that. It happens occasionally, but…

Other people: It happens ALL THE TIME, but it’s covered up by the Banana hating media who want to take all our bananas.

Some people: Dude, last week my paper printed a story about a kid winning a science fair award. You think they’d ignore a juicy banana related story? Hero with banana takes down banana-wielding madman?

Other people: You can’t have my bananas. Guys in Europe went nuts with bananas and you don’t say DIDDLEY about THEIR banana laws…

Some people: Because the nutters in Paris got their bananas illegally. People will do that, especially those under the control of imaginary deities. Restricting banana access won’t stop people being killed with bananas, but it will make it harder.

Other people: Criminals don’t obey laws. They’ll still have bananas.

Some people: The people killing other people in mass-banana incidents haven’t been criminals, though, have they? They’ve been terrorists, if they’re non-caucasian, and “mentally ill” if they’re white. Most criminals use their bananas in robberies or muggings. There’s no money in mass-banana incidents. Except for the National Banana Association, who use the fear of these things to drive up membership and banana sales.

Other people: You’re wrong. My country was built on bananas. I’m keeping my bananas and you can’t have them. You try and take my bananas, and I’ll use them on you!

Some people: YOU’RE bananas.

I stayed away from this topic for over a week after receiving a detailed breakdown of the inadequacies of my argument on Twitter. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot.

My views have not changed. Restricting gun access is not restricting your freedom. Armed revolution is an unlikely excuse for the mania for guns in the US. If you believe you need your gun to fight your own elected government, then you don’t believe in the dream of the country you claim is great. I don’t care about the definition of assault rifles, that’s a red herring. I don’t care about nitpicking over the terms of the Second Amendment, and neither do you.

The truth is, people want guns, and guns are to kill people with. Yes, you can use them for hunting, and yes,  some hunting rifles are little different from military-grade weapons. But I would suggest that if you need thirty rounds available in less than a minute, you’re a lousy hunter. Admit you need that gun to kill people. Now think about a country where you believe you might have to storm your State or Federal capital alongside a mass of undisciplined armed civilians. Who decides when? Who decides who is in charge during or after your insurrection? Who passes judgement on those you remove from power? And how long before those who have driven out the previous government are overthrown by the next armed mob?

Lucky Winner!

The fortunate victor of last post’s “Spotlight on the Author” – leave a comment competition is bhhawthorne! Yay! Send me some contact details to dtrasler3@gmail.com and I’ll forward them to L.J.Cohen, so she can get in touch.

Thanks for commenting!

 

There’s been a dramatic pause in the posts of late, due mostly to the events in the US. I hope to get back to my usual verbose and pompous self in the next few days. Thanks for your patience.

Spotlight on the Author – L.J. Cohen

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Remember a few weeks ago I posted about my imaginary friends, and how I finally got to meet one of them? Well, that very same friend has graciously consented to be the latest author under the spotlight and answer my impertinent questions about writing.

Lisa Cohen (who writes as L.J. Cohen) has a great web-presence, and you can find out more about her and her work in a number of ways. She’s active on G+(https://www.google.com/+LisaCohen ) and Twitter (@lisajanicecohen) as well as running her own website (http://www.ljcohen.net/ ) and blog ( http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/ ) . She can also be found over on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen ) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5305326.L_J_Cohen ), but if you just want to skip straight to her book list, check out her Amazon Author page for the very latest available materials : http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006QL6GA0

The Questions

1. When did you start writing?

Well, that depends on what you mean by start and writing. Apparently, I wrote my first short story when I was in early elementary school. My father had kept it in his wallet for years – some silly paragraph about a new gnu that I had written for homework during a unit on homonyms. The paper was the kind with wide lines and the dashes in the middle that teachers give students to help them write more legibly. (News flash: it didn’t really help. My handwriting has always been a mess.)

I’ve written poetry since my early teens and continuing to the present day. Poetry remains my home base for writing. But I completed my first novel between 2004 and 2005 as a result of a challenge from my husband. I’ve written a novel a year since then.

2. What was your path to publication?

A twisted and torturous one?

Not knowing any better, I revised and queried for that first novel in 2005. It wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time and I’m slightly horrified that it actually got a few partial and full requests. Meanwhile, I was working on novel number two and getting better at craft. I queried for that one, and didn’t get a lot of traction. Then I wrote novel number three and one of my queries resulted in being picked up by an agent in 2009.

Over the next several years, we went out on submission for three different projects and
despite close calls, she was never able to sell any of them. In 2011, indie publishing was just starting to be an option and in many ways, it was still the ‘wild west’ of publishing. I consulted with my then-agent about indie publishing one of the manuscripts that had gotten a bunch of praise from the big six (when there were still six) publishers, but ultimately turned down. She and I thought it might be a way to show market interest in my work. So I created an imprint, gave myself a crash course in what-the- hell-does- a-publisher- do-anyway and published THE BETWEEN in January of 2012.

It sold modestly and got good reviews, but it didn’t break out in any way and didn’t help me break in to traditional publishing. A few years later, my agent and I parted ways when it became clear that I couldn’t write the kind of books she could sell and she couldn’t sell the kind of books I could write.

Since then, I’ve published four additional novels, a short story collection, and co-edited an
anthology and have never looked back. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE is novel number
six.

3. Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

Starting out in publishing? Probably Lynn Viehl. She was a traditionally published midlist
writer of spec fic and romance. I found her through her blog, http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ and was immediately inspired by her work ethic and the way she interacted with her fans. She was always incredibly polite and respectful of her readers and so amazingly prolific. We became friends through her blog and continue to be friends to this day.

4. What is your favourite piece of writing advice?

Ditch the advice and do what works for you. (I just made that up!)

5. If you could send one Tweet back in time to your past self, what would it say? And would you listen?

Quit spending valuable resources worrying what people think. I probably wouldn’t have
listened. Past me could be an idiot. (Current me can be one, too.)

6. What’s the logline for your latest book?

Funny you should ask this! Writing pal Susan Spann just ran a twitter chat on creating
elevator pitches for your novels. It was really helpful for me in crafting that biggest of big
picture views. This is the elevator pitch for DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, book 3 of
Halcyone Space and my next release:

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict between the
young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires.

Or even shorter: MacGuyver in space.

7. Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

I used to be part of formal workshops, both online and in physical space. I currently have
online support networks, both through Google+ and FB, but for writing critique, I now work with a lovely cadre of beta readers.

While I think workshops/crit groups can be extremely useful, they can also promote a kind of writing by committee that blunts a writer’s voice. Writers need to walk a fine line between being open to critique and holding to their creative vision.

8. Finally, what word do you always type incorrectly?

Word? How about lists? I have a form of dyslexia and there are certain words that visually
look identical to me. Through, though, thought ALWAYS give me trouble. For a lot of other
words, my brain moves faster than my fingers and I often leave a letter out or transpose
letters in a short word.

Leave a comment below and have a chance to win one of L.J. Cohen’s books! A lucky winner will be selected at random in a week’s time.

Graduation

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Seven years in Canada means there are now very few moments where we stop and say “Hey, that’s a bit different!”, but this week, there was a big one. Eldest Weasel has graduated High School.

*Puts on flat cap and lights pipe*

Back in my day, we didn’t graduate from High School. For a start, we didn’t GO to High School. Mandatory Secondary Education finished with the Fifth Year and G.C.S.E.s (I was in the first year to take these new-fangled replacements for the O levels). We spent May and June taking an assortment of exams (nine, in my case) and when you took your last exam, you were done. No more Secondary School. There was, I think, a final assembly, but I got sent out of that for talking, so I don’t know what happened in it.

As an avid consumer of North American film and TV, I’m familiar with the concept of High School graduation (though this one turned out very different from that Buffy Episode…). What I hadn’t realised was the ceremony is really worthwhile. Poor Eldest Weasel was consumed with nerves about the whole thing, which was a shame because this was a great way to mark the early years of education, the culmination of the time that this age group would spend together in school. From this point on, as was made clear by the statements read out for each graduate, they would be scattering to all kinds of different colleges, careers and ambitions.

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That’s not to say that the mood was entirely sombre. The Principal (who is also moving on to a new job) gave a speech that was upbeat and encouraging, inevitably quoting Dr Seuss, and making several jokes (some unintentional). There were catcalls and cheers for the students receiving scholarships, and many of the hats had been decorated by their owners, since they would be kept as souvenirs of the big day. It was a long ceremony, only broken twice by performances from the choir and the band, begun with “O, Canada” sung by one of the graduates and closed with “God Save the Queen” sung by another. The hats were thrown into the air after the Valedictorian’s speech (and you have to love Drama Students for stepping up when it comes to making a great speech) and the graduates filed out to meet the friends and relatives who had packed the arena.

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I had come to the event believing it to be overblown and unnecessary , just one more stress to drop on a group of young adults already being pressured to decide their futures. But I came away feeling it had been exactly right – a celebration of the time and effort these students had put into their school, an acknowledgement of what it will come to mean to them in the future, and a reminder that the friendships they have made here can be carried forward no matter how far apart they may travel.