Showing posts with label laptops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label laptops. Show all posts

29 April 2017

Over-Byters Anonymous


 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the  International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the first in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
Here's my salute to the wonderful families who put up with us crime-writers! 
I write mystery and suspense fiction.  Lately it's been taking over my life.

I blame this on my new laptop.  Sleek and slim, it accompanies me everywhere: in the car, at the kitchen table, in the loo.

Unfortunately, it has become too convenient.  I have become a victim of the Computer Black Hole of Time.  Take last week, for instance:

"Quick - the laptop! I have an idea and I don't want to lose it."

"Oh no, Mom!  Not the laptop!  Don't do it...don't turn it on...don't"
(Insert theme song from Twilight Zone here.)

Alas, poor Natalie.  She knows what is to come.  Like Jeff Goldblum in that remake of The Fly, I merge with my mini-computer.  We become one.  Conscious only of our own existence.  Oblivious to the sounds of life around us.  Consumed by the story that has to come out of us.

Somewhere, a voice cuts through the fog.

"Mom, I'm hungry."

Normally a staunch advocate of the five food groups, I forget all about artificial flavour, colour dye number 412 and hydrogenated everything.  Lost in the netherworld of word-processing, I utter the dead giveaway:

"There's some Twinkies in the cupboard."

Natalie shakes her head in despair.  "She's gone."

Tap tap tap.  Fingers on the keyboard have a rhythm all their own.  Mesmerizing.  Hours shrink to minutes.  Like a jigsaw puzzle half done, the shreds of my story are piecing themselves together.  If I can only...

"Dad's home, Mom."

"Just a sec."

"It's dinner time, Mom."

"I think there's some Oreo's in the cupboard."

Back to the keyboard.  The laptop is humming our tune.  Words glide across the screen in a seductive dance.  I'm caught in the feverish whirlpool of setting, viewpoint, characterization and climax.

An electric can-opener disturbs my train of thought.

"Earth to Mom.  Want some tuna?"

"Just a sec."

"Honey, are you all right?"

My husband's voice.  What is he doing home so early?

"We're eating now," he says.

"Have a Pop Tart," I blurt.

Natalie shakes her head.  "Give up, Dad."

I'm back to the screen, running with my story character...heart pounding, mind agonizing.  Will he get to the scene before the murderer?  Will he be in time to prevent it?

Somewhere in the house, water is running - pounding on porcelain like thunder.  Hey, that's it!  Add a blinding thunder storm, the hero running through sheets of rain, slipping on wet pavement, unable to read the house numbers....

I PG UP and start revising.

"Night, Mom."

"Night, Mommy"

"Murrmph?"  I don't look up.

Finished.  I save copy and turn off my partner in crime, the laptop.  Draft one, complete.  What a team.  Sitting for hours in one position, I am oddly invigorated.  Ready to run the Boston Marathon, and looking for company.

It's dark outside.  The house is quiet.  I thump upstairs, looking for everyone.

Even my husband is in bed.  I sit on the edge of the mattress, bewildered.

"Why is everyone in bed so early?"

My husband pokes his head up.  "It's 3 a.m."

"It is?"  Astonishing.  Once again, I have been a victim of the Computer Black Hole of Time: entire hours mysteriously devoured by the simple on-switch of a computer.  I contemplate starting a self-help group for chronic users:  Over-Byters Anonymous.  But I don't think I could deal with the separation anxiety.

"Wanna read my story?" I ask eagerly.

There are limits to the devotion of even the most supportive family.

It's 3 a.m.  He declines.

Added note:
Today is Authors for Indies day in Canada.  By Indies, we mean independent bookstores.  All across the True North, authors are appearing at independent bookstores to do signings, and show their appreciation.  I will be at Different Drummer bookstore in Burlington, Ontario, this afternoon.  Many thanks to all our independent bookstore owners!

Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup.  Her books and short stories have won 10 awards, even though they are probably certifiable, poor things.  Read at your own risk. www.melodiecampbell.com

09 December 2014

Adapting (to the conditions)


by Stephen Ross
I'm writing this on a bus, on a laptop. I have a 75 minute commute to the office each morning, and home again in the evening. Auckland is a spread-out city (think LA, but without the permafrost cloud of pollution). I live in a nice neighborhood, and I work in a nice neighborhood; unfortunately there's about 40 kilometers of road in between.

New Zealand is a car nation, and Auckland is the capital of cars. Public transportation exists, but it's little more than buses. There's no underground (or elevated), no streetcars (they were phased out in the 1960s). There is a rail line, but it's only a single line, and unless you are fortunate enough to live on it (I don't), it serves no benefit to you.

So, for the last couple of years, I've been taking the bus. It's hysterically cheaper than petrol and parking for the car, and until three weeks ago, when I bought a laptop, it gave me guaranteed time built into each day in which to read.

Learning to read while in motion was a new experience for me. For most of my life, I had been a confirmed motion sickness sufferer, a strictly stare-out-the-window-and-wait-until-we-get-there traveler.
  • Reading comics in the car as a child: ill 
  • Reading a magazine on a 747: ill 
  • Reading a plaque while standing on the deck of the HMS Endeavour replica while anchored in port: nautically ill
  • Trying to take photos out of the window of a helicopter 300 feet over Diamond Head: scenically ill
When I started commuting by bus I thought, at 400 kilometers a week, I was going to go out of my mind unless I did something to occupy myself. So I took a book one morning and committed to learning how to read. I was nauseous for about two weeks, and it was hell, but I broke through. Now I can read anything while in motion: books, my Kindle, emails, Facebook, WhatsApp, whatever.

However.

I am a writer, and in the times when I wasn't reading on the bus, I did a lot of thinking about writing; but thinking only, with the frustration that I couldn't do anything. So, after two and a half years, I finally bought a laptop. Reading a book every week or two is all fine and good, but it's NOT writing.

 If I was to code the problem, it might look like this:

$Writer == WHERE words(Output > Input);
Writing on a bus has meant learning to adapt. Probably 95% of all the fiction I've ever written has been done seated at the desk in my office at my house. The conditions for writing there have been finely tuned over the years and are optimal. Writing on a bus is like writing on a rollercoaster; you don't know what lies ahead.

As with learning to read while in motion, it's taken a couple of weeks to learn how to write while in motion, but it hasn't been too difficult. There are the usual distractions: other people and noise (generally forgotten about with a set of earbuds and the right music track). I honestly think I could write anywhere now. In fact, I'm getting adventurous; I today sat in a café in my lunch break, with the laptop and a cup of coffee which, for me, is completely out of the ordinary.

Writing in public, especially on a bus, does have one pitfall: if someone sits right behind you and can read what's on your screen. That's one distraction I find hard to ignore. Yesterday, I was writing a sex scene in my book. I had the impression the woman seated behind was trying to read what I was typing. In my mind, she was busting an eye socket trying to read my purple scarlet prose. In reality, she probably couldn't even make out the words, or even the language -- my font size is pretty small (so that I can see 3 pages spread across the screen). But it's the thought of it that's distracting.
Pick your bus seat wisely.

And while I'm talking about bus seats, allow me to gripe about the dimensions of bus seating on Auckland City buses. I'm 6 foot 1, hardly a contender for the Guinness Book of Records. The seats on buses here were designed for hobbits. Seriously.

A couple of other tips for writing on a bus:
  • Avoid the glare. If you can, sit on the side of the bus that's opposite to the sun.
  • The back seats are where the kids hang out. They like to fidget and kick seat backs. Only sit there if you're researching a story about teen angst.
  • Don't sit near anyone over 40 with an old phone in his/her hand. He/she will use it. Loudly. Everybody else quietly social networks on smartphones.
  • Sit near to people with books (they're the nice people)
  • Know the route: know the corners and potholes where it's a good idea to hang on tightly to your laptop.
How do you write? What distractions can you tolerate, or not? Can you write anywhere?

Be seeing you!

08 July 2013

Computer in a Box


Jan Grape by Jan Grape

Do you over research things? I do. Especially when I'm going to spend some money. I've been trying to decide on what computer to buy for over two months. Okay, I haven't spent everyday on it, but every few days and at least twice a week. Do you have any idea how many different laptops there are? Seems every company in the electronic businesss makes a laptop. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Panasonic, Lovoto, Lenovo, Toshiba, Samsung, and of course Apple's MacBooks and their iMac. I'm sure I've left out a half dozen more. There are laptops and notebooks and Idea Books and something called Twist and Shout, I kid you not.

So my idea was to find a lightweight machine with a bit of fast power, a fair amount of HD memory and a price I could handle. I determined a reasonable amount that I could afford and my top figure was five hundred dollars. I knew when I added tax and product insurance protection and perhaps some tech support insurance, that $500 would quickly run up to seven, eight hundred. And I'd still have to get software programs. Most don't come with software installed anymore, except perhaps anti-virus.

Now there're things like i3, i5 and i7 Intel processors. There's 5 GB this and 740 GB that and touch and no-touch and other things with strings of letters and numbers for CDs and DVD and ways you can burn those and USB ports galore and gaming whatevers and HD webcams with dual tone microphones. Not to even mention Windows 8 which people say is so hard to use and a few computer which still use Windows 7.

Before long my head was spinning like that girl in The Exorcist. Surely you can understand why I couldn't research every day because it was absolutely confusing, One day this past week, I managed to chat with a Question and Answer person at Dell who after two hours helped me decide which of their laptop would be just exactly what I needed. I then tried to order it and had trouble getting shipping address set up. One of the main reasons I thought I'd go with Dell is I've had 3 Dell laptops and before that a Dell desktop. I've had excellent luck with all of them and the tech support has been wonderful. But after another hour online and I couldn't get a laptop ordered I got tired of the whole thing and gave up for that session.

Then a funny thing happened this morning after a late night conversation with my Nashville daughter, and she kept bragging about her Toshiba laptop, I got an e-mail from one of those big box stores, telling about a sale they were having. As luck would a very nice Toshiba laptop that fit all my criteria was on sale within my price range. Even better we have one of those stores in our town of Marble Falls which made their geek guys readily available. I drove over there about 5 pm and about an hour later I drove back home with a computer in a fairly small box.

I'm excited although I know the learning curve will take me twice as long since I'm computer challenged. Yet soon I will be ankle deep in Windows 8 alligators trying to understand exactly what to do.

To make this all more or less on topic of writing, I'll have you know that I've got the third in my Zoe Barrow policewoman series about half-way through its first draft and I came up with an idea for a short story this week and was just waiting for the new laptop to get involved with either project.

It's probably okay to research like crazy if you're planning to spend a chunk of money, but when you're researching for your book or story, don't get too carried away. If you fall in love with your research you'll have a hard time going cold turkey. And if you use too much of your research in your story you can get bogged down. Just do the necessary research and then use it sparingly.

Now off to open this new computer in a box.

22 October 2012

Technology Challenged


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I've mentioned many times that I'm technology challenged. After talking to many writer friends through the years, I've discovered that I'm not alone. I learned to use a computer back in the early80s. Yep, the first computer I owned was a Kaypro. It was only a word processing and it used a large 5 1/4 inch floppy disk. The computer and the printer cost around thirty-eight hundred dollars. Yeah, really.

The next computer I had was a PC called a Comp-u-add, I think it was around 1985 or so. It still mainly was only word-processing. If it did anything else I don't remember. I may have been able to used AOL then but not really sure. I bought my first desktop from Dell. Things were becoming more sophisticated. This computer used a 3.5 in diskette. By this time, I'm using AOL, and goodness AOL was all the big rage.

I also had a fax machine and had a dedicated phone line. I hate to think of how much I'm spent over the years for computers and electronic equipment. And could only utilize a small amount of intelligence these things could do. I remember also buying a Dell laptop along about then. The operating system was DOS. I took my laptop with me when I went to visit my daughter in Nashville, TN. My grandson, Riley was 5 years old and he and I played a few games on the laptop. A short time later, I'm back in TX, Riley's father was given a laptop at his sales job but there was no manual given out that day. My son-in-law got home and turned on the computer and couldn't do anything to make it start-up. He tried several things he thought might work but nothing did. Riley (age 5) sat watching his dad and finally said, "Nana always types 'dosshell' first." His skeptical father totally frustrated finally typed DOSSHELL and his computer came to life.

So at this point you'd think I was a computer expert...NOT. I could use Word Perfect processing program but about all I could do was type my stories, cut and paste. I learned to integrate addresses and work the mail program. Other writer friends still thought that was fantastic because they couldn't do that. I was able to write several short stories on the computer. That was a big step up from typing them on an electronic IBM Selectric typewriter.

I wrote my first book on my Dell laptop and Desktop. I could go back and forth, copying them onto the diskettes and keep them up to date. I made several back-up copies of everything and learned from a writer friend in CO to keep a copy in the freezer. If your house burned, chances were that diskette would survive. We all worried that we'd somehow lose our work. Computers crashed and things got lost and what would we do if that happened?

We were in New Mexico volunteering as camp hosts for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) down in the very bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge when I bought my second Dell laptop. This was probably 2001. It was delivered in Taos at the main BLM office and we were 16 miles away. As soon I we could we drove into down and I was so excited to have a new laptop. Laptops were the way to go when you lived in a 31 ft. Fifth Wheel RV. No room for a desk or desktop.

By now I could get online and transfer a file to the publisher and they could send it back with suggestions for changes but the final copy editing was still done and printed up in hard copy and paper. When you sent a final manuscript in back in earlier years, you sent a hard copy and a diskette.
So being able to send a mss online was seemingly high tech and in reality it was at that time.

Flash forward to current time. I still haven't learned much about computer operations...as Rob and Leigh can testify. I had so much trouble trying to get my blog article written and up and online that Rob finally wrote some step by step instructions for me and I have to use them every time. Here are my recent technology challenges.

There's a lady I heard about in ME who will format your books into the correct files so they can be uploaded to Nook and Kindle. I know there are people all over the place who do this, but she was recommended by a writer friend so I contacted her. She wrote me back saying she could do it and began spouting off technological things for me to do. I wrote back saying...wait, please. I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm very technology challenged. She wrote back saying, no problem. I've hand-held many first-timers, but we'll get it done.

First, I had to find a copy of my first book, written on my first laptop. Call me crazy but I still have all three of my old laptops. I looked on my second oldest and couldn't find the 1st book. I did find the second one and after a few tries managed to copy the file to a flash drive. Put the flash drive in the proper slot on my current desk top, copied to desktop and sent it to Pam. Whew...that wasn' too bad.

Next she wrote saying we needed to come up with covers for the books. I had sent actual copies of both books. I more or less had designed the cover for the 1st book published in 2001 and the publisher did a variation of that cover for the 2nd one published in 2005. In between years Five Star published a collection of my short stories (Found Dead In Texas). So I'm frantically searching for jpegs of the covers and can find pictures of the covers on these old laptops but they were in PDF not jpeg. I had at least learned a few years what a jpeg was but not how to produce one or anything.

While trying to find a copy of my first book (and she said Word Perfect was okay) I found it, but the oldest laptop would not take a flash drive. I got an e-mail from Pam saying she had the hard copies of my books and the file I had sent to her only had 16 chapters and the book had 21 chapters. I thought I had sent my final file to her...but NO, wasn't so. While still searching for the first book and have no idea how to get it off the old laptop. I came up with the idea of taking the laptop to a computer store (not a big box store, a small help place) who said they could convert the copied diskette file to a flash drive. I take it in and learn that this file is only 16 chapters. Back on the way home I realized that I had only saved the 21 file chapter file to the computer not to the diskette. (See how challenged I am.)

Back home again, I discover the correct 21 chapter file on the 2nd laptop and the also full file of the whole mss for the first book which I thought was not on this 2nd laptop (again challenged.) I have no idea how I missed it the first time. I had been sure both books were on the 2nd laptop when I began this process (challenged again). Believe it or not, I got the files to Pam, and her son was able to scan the book covers into something that can be used and things are finally looking up. I'm currently proof-reading the 2nd book because it was the first file she had ready. And actually finding typos in the book not the file. So will try to get those corrected so the e-books will be in better shape all around.

You who are computer knowledgeable folks are probably laughing by now. I don't blame you. My friend Pam is hand-holding me. Some of the notes she writes she's dumbed down (the best she can) the technical words and phrases so I can understand. Otherwise I have to write back and say...I have no idea what you're talking about.

I am about as dumb as a horned toad when it comes to technology. But I am still learning. My story and I'm sticking to it.