Thursday, December 31, 2015

Project Vampy Black: Back On Track

I am currently working on Darthaniel Black's Vampy Black project and getting that edited and ready for release. It is a fun book and I am currently working through the end chapters on clean-up. This is currently 42,000 words so it is a sizable editing job, so I expect another week or two of work before I am ready to put my editing signature on this and hand it back to Darthaniel for release.

I am done two of my back-project books and they are doing very well, and it is time to push this though and finish work on it. Nothing feels as satisfying as actually taking something that has been sitting there for a while, finishing it, and delivering. It is always easier to start something than it is to finish.

So get ready for some fun, sexy, fang-y, and action adventure-y urban fantasy from one of my favorite dialog writers, and also a friend who helps me run my projects. More on this soon.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Upon an Ocean Together


If you get a moment today, read that. This is one of part of my Workshop series over on e-read, and I am told it is beautiful and inspiring many, writers and those who create.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rankings: Cinderella Loves Snow White, Top 50 in Fantasy Erotica


The one thing I dislike about watching book rankings is seeing them eventually drop off the charts, so I tend not to use these or sit there refreshing a page all day watching them. Many books in the erotic romance genre are likely to drop below that sub-basement #1,000,000 level some day, so it is best not to pin too many hopes and dreams on these things.

That said, I love seeing them go up, and I will be sitting here refreshing this page all day.

Top 50 in fantasy erotica and top 100 in lesbian erotica?

I am not only honored, I am humbled. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New Release: Cinderella Loves Snow White

She kissed me in my dreams.

We stood in a lake in the middle of the deepest woods, alone, sans clothes or secrets between us. Two women, our bodies bared to each other, our breasts free and full, wet from the lake, as drops of water glistened and sparkled on her skin and rolled off in dewy streams.

That I was so fascinated by another woman’s breasts surprised me, and I felt my breaths run short. She stared at me with pearly-blue eyes, as her hair shimmered with the black shine of a raven’s feather, and a body I could only dream of. Her body was perfect, sculpted and lithe, the peaks of her hipbones just above the water, and her skin dove down towards her sex as it caught the laps of the gentle waves between us.

A woman?

I dreamed of a woman.

A wet drop of water clung to her hardened nipple, and I wanted to touch it, to steal it off and bring it to my lips. It escaped my touch before I could reach for it, as my hand stopped short in the tense air between us.

In my most private times I dreamed of her.

In my most lonely moments she delivered me peace and comfort.

My secret?

Why, my secret?

Her eyes knew but they did not say.


Fantasy fairy-tale erotic romance captures my heart today, and now live in the store is book #1 of my CLS Romance Project, or aptly-titled Cinderella Loves Snow White. This is now available in the Amazon store and also on Kindle Unlimited, so you can check it our for free if you are a subscriber to that service.

So, why? I have always wanted to write romance, and while my alternate-ego Angel Black is deep in the middle of a swords and sorcery futanari epic, I wanted to stretch my wings and try something more conventional, yet unconventionally so. This started out as straight romance, but it acquired enough heat after I came back to place this in the erotic romance category, although the sex-to-pages quotient may not be as high if you are used to books that deliver sex in every chapter. Out of 32,000 words I have two-and-a-half erotic scenes, and the rest is pure story. The story is a mix of traditional romance and action-and-adventure, so it is a genre I love and true to my heart.

This is a book #1, because I needed this out. It sat for nearly a year uncompleted, and I came back to it early this month and finished this half of the story. I wanted this out to judge reader reaction, the end of this story has not yet been written, and I feel in some way this ending needs to come from the fans. I need feelings on this, and then I shall dive back in and bring the story to its end. I set a two-book limit for this story, and even put "1 of 2" on the cover to make that promise to readers. It feels like a two-book story now, and I don't want to lure readers along endlessly without a set limit.

Yes, if there is interest, the second book will be finished in a lot faster time than a year, trust me. I have fallen in love with this story, and ideas and endings are coming to me at this moment. It takes a little time though to finish something right, because I put a higher standard on myself because I am a reviewer. I'm not perfect though, but I like to think I am.

So, why fairy tales? Because it is about time we took them back. Go back and read the original Brothers Grimm tales, and you'll find that fairy tales were decidedly adult stories with mature themes. While I take nothing away from all the great work that writers and creators have done for these tales for younger audiences, I feel there is a wealth of material in the land of not-so "happily ever after" for these characters more suited for an older audience.

What happens to a Cinderella after her marriage to Prince Charming? What if she discovers her love for him may have been a little less true than she first assumed? What if another princess caught her eye, and set a fire in her heart? I know, there hasn't been too many fairy tales where princesses run off with other princesses, so this story has a unique and interesting angle to it that I feel is contemporary and worth exploring.

This world also has darkness, and same-sex relationships are not always the things of which fairy tale endings are made of. There is quite a bit of dealing and coping in this book with a troubled soul or two, and some admittedly dark places which define characters and their motivations. The world and certain places within are not so friendly to such an affair, and while this may be hurtful to some, it makes their love all the more tragic and special. Great romances are defined by the forces which stand against them and judge them, and in this case I wanted to capture a little fairy tale reality and some of the tragedy from history, from both medieval and our modern times.

There is humor, adventure, lust, betrayal, adultery, deception, and plenty of hurt to go around. Against that tide of war and darkness stands love, and someone who does not know who she is as a person. She must find herself, and she must deal with who she is and who she could be. In the end, this is a book about strength and love, and how two souls can overcome the darkness.

There is another part to this story, I know and I feel it. There is yet another tale here to be told. But for now, let me be your storyteller for a while, and take you once upon a time into a fantasy world where a single dream can turn everything on its head.

Cinderella Loves Snow White, book #1, now on Amazon.

Monday, December 21, 2015

CLS Romance Project: Cover Reveal


So...CLS Romance Project?

Let's start calling this Cinderella Loves Snow White, and today let's do a cover reveal. I just submitted this to the Amazon store and it is in review, so it will take a day or two to go through the store submission process and get on the shelves.

So, lesbian erotic romance meets fairy tales? Yes, you got it right, and this one was so fun to write. If you have been following along, this one sat on the back burner for a while, as I hit a point where I didn't know where I wanted it to go. I had a plan, but by the time I got there, the plan rung hollow and it needed a new direction. I needed to follow my heart, so I rolled some things back, set a new course, and finished the first book in this series.

I wanted to write this as straight romance, but I had some very nice heat creep in there by the end, and so I put this in erotica where it belongs. I needed that heat, because without it, you would have this book where the two of them constantly lust instead of commit and change. This decision to add a little more heat was a part of my revamp and rekindling of this title, and it payed off for me because I was able to explore so much more, and take this in a decidedly delicious and darkly twisted direction.

This is a book one, and it will be up to the fans to let me know if this one should continue. I know it feels like a typical move, but I want some fan reaction to shape the ending of this, so I will let people read and give me some feedback. The end of this story has not yet been written, and in a way, the fans will let me know in which way this one will go.

I will speak more about this when it is in the stores and give you a store link, but for now, enjoy the cover, and I am a happy writer who has another one on her shelf.

More to enjoy soon.

Friday, December 18, 2015

iA Writer and Narration Tense



I love this app. If you have a Mac, iOS, or Android device, it is worth checking out iA Writer. It is one of those "distraction free" writing apps for the Mac and iOS (and they have a version on Google Play for Android), but with one incredible difference.

You can auto-highlight verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions.

You type, and all those pesky verbs are highlighted, and you can check things as you go against your little black book of rules. Now, I love Scrivener for its organizational magic, but when I am in the down and dirty of editing and ironing out verb tense, nothing else comes close to this app.

Nothing.

I narrate in two main styles, a present tense style which I call careful tense, and the standard novel-style past tense. My characters speak in all tenses, so they are free to speak as they wish. There is one overriding rule for careful tense narration, it is that all statements in regards to verbs and times must be true. I can thus narrate like this:
I walk down the street and enjoy the warm weather. Yesterday, I walked down this same street in the rain and got soaked. I will be walking down this street when he leaves tomorrow. I arrive at the bus stop.
Mixed tenses all in the same paragraph with a default present tense-narration, but all statements true in regards to the time they were stated. Some of the statements are in past or future tense, but they relate to facts the narrator is relating to that happened in the past or are expected to happen in the future. If you are doing past-tense narration, you would write the following:
I walked down the street and enjoyed the warm weather. The day before, I walked down this same street in the rain and got soaked. I would be walking down this street when he leaves tomorrow. I arrived at the bus stop.
Present tense assumed the narrator is speaking now, where past tense assumes the narrator is relating events which happened in the past. There is a good reason novel writers use past tense, because switching tense in your narration can be a tricky thing. It is easier to stick to the past tense throughout, and ignore the present tense unless a character is using it in dialog.

I am using traditional past-tense narration for my CLS Romance Project since it is a traditional fairy-tale type story, so I need iA Writer to double-check my verb tense. It helps a great deal, since I can zero in on my verbs and check each one to make sure it is using the correct form of past-tense, and ensure I don't fall into those "had been" and "have been" issues when I am supposed to be speaking in the past tense.

I love writing in the present tense though, or at least my careful tense style. I love the books written in present tense and how they feel, like 50 Shades and the Hunger Games, there is just this immediate and gripping style when a character-as-narrator says:
He grabs me and kisses me.
You are right there, and it is happening now.

Now I will say if you do any amount of mixed writing, where some of your books are narrated in the past tense and others are narrated in the present, you are setting yourself up for disaster. It is always the best to stick to the style you love and get used to that, because once you start switching narration modes, you will find yourself slipping past tense verbs into your present tense narration, and the other way around.

But if you are learning this stuff, trying to develop a past or present tense style, or find yourself constantly tripping over verb tense, get a Mac, iOS, or Android device (sorry Windows), and check out this app. If you need it for proofreading, cleaning up excessive adverbs, or just a double-check of your inner editor's sanity, check out this app.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How to be a Writer

Six easy steps, done every day:
  1. Write!
    1. Just write, edit, or push something along until it's done.
  2. Organize!
    1. If you don't feel like writing today, organize your projects!
    2. This is a trick, because by going through your projects, you will find something you love and jump into it.
  3. Study!
    1. If you don't feel like organizing today, study!
    2. Practice makes perfect, and self-help books really help.
  4. Read!
    1. If you don't feel like studying today, read!
    2. You owe it to yourself to be reading every day, because it makes you a better writer.
  5. Market!
    1. Do this after you do something in steps 1-4.
    2. You need to make money. 
  6. Community!
    1. Do this after marketing.
    2. Become a part of a community, review, and help others.
    3. When you need help, you will have someone there.
If you need a break, take it. You cannot expect to do good work when you are burnt out. If a project is stagnating, put it aside. There is a value to finishing something, but maybe it needs more time to simmer. Don't get into the habit of starting things and never finishing them though, even putting out half a book is better than putting out none at all.

CLS Romance Project: +10% to Fix the Purple Monkeys

I always end up adding an extra 10% to my word count on each editing pass I do, and this is true with my CLS Romance Project, where I am up to about 31,000 words. I credit this workshop for a lot of my editing work, and I am constantly adding things which I found was short-changed the first time through:

Wednesday Workshop: Purple Monkeys and Padded Rooms

I just love that workshop, and yes I wrote it, but it forces me to slow down and rethink rushing through a scene. To me, those details of what things look like bring in so much to my work, and all sorts of interesting observations start appearing in my writing as characters begin reacting to where they are and what other characters look like.

It is instantly great stuff, and it not only gives the reader an idea of what things look like, it gives the reader an insight into the character observing the scene and how they think about the world. a great description goes both ways, it colors the world for the reader, and it also colors the character observing that world to the reader.

When we write a first draft, we invariably rush to get the scene done. When we come back, we need to pay attention to grammar and correctness, but also sound and tone. And finally, we need to pay attention to painting that picture in a reader's mind. That is what I love doing, coming back to a scene and then seeing all the fun little places that I can paint-by-numbers some great detail and visuals back into the work.

You can go too far, and spend a lot of time describing things which do not need description, but you need to pay your dues at other times. If you can go through several chapters and still have no idea of what a character is wearing or looks like, you have a serious problem. I love great dialog, but one things I notice about a lot of books with great dialog is a distinct lack of description, as if somehow a character's words alone will tell a reader what that character looks like or what they are wearing.

You need to slow down, and nail this stuff. Readers need to be filled in on the basics, and you need to set the scene. Characters needs to be described at least once, and even the most minor of details can be very telling.

But yes, I find it is very helpful to use the purple monkey and padded room rule when you edit, because it forces you to think about things which may have just sailed right by you through several editing passes. These missed descriptions are great opportunities to use to not only paint your world a little for your readers, but to make your characters come to life in ways which reflect the world you just described.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A World Without Desktop Apps?

What value do desktop applications bring to the world?

I find myself sitting here and taking stock of the desktop apps I need, and the ones I really don't.

I like Scrivener and that brings value to my work and what I do. Photoshop is another. I am a creative professional, and there are some applications I prefer to work with and that make my life easier with what I do. Are there tablet and mobile replacements for these programs? Yes, there are. They are not as a capable, and they would make me change the way I do things, but I could survive as a creative professional without them.

For the general public, the answer to this question is much easier. You could survive without desktop applications altogether in today's world. There are mobile apps that create MS-Word files and Excel-style spreadsheets, and some that do so very well. There are image-editing programs that could put together a good-looking image or edit a photo.

And Scrivener and Photoshop have versions out or coming out for mobile.

Games are another huge desktop application, multi-gigabyte creations that reside on my hard drive should I find the time to spend with them. They are, really, one of the last reasons I maintain a desktop or Windows laptop.

Some of the most pointless desktop apps out there are primarily used to support other desktop apps, or somehow do something the basic OS should be doing for you without a major hassle. They exist just to perpetuate the desktop world, and they have no use or real function outside the desktop model. I don't need ZIP archive programs, FTP programs, file managers, or anything else of the sort on a tablet - I really shouldn't - but I admit they are once and a while nice to have things. On a tablet, I don't see the need, really, and there is always a desktop around for these types of files and functions.

Content. The future world should focus on content. The OS should be focused on a small space for running itself, and the rest should be content space. The OS should organize things and take into account whatever storage you hook up to it. Everything should optionally upload to the cloud, and things I buy from the same company should be stored up there for free.

I like devices that handle all the messy stuff for me. What app should open my books and movies? I don't care, they should just open. I expect a choice in some cases, and with other devices, I don't, but it is nice to have an option to set it.

As a creative professional, I cannot escape my desktop apps just yet. I feel that day is getting close though. In some ways, I will miss the old world, but in others, I won't.

Google has come a long way to replacing a lot of desktop apps with their online office suite. The minute Google makes a Photoshop replacement I will be one step closer to freedom. Yes, owning desktop apps is a huge benefit, but it is also comes at a huge cost. Not having to own install disks that are tied to a particular version, not having a hard drive and machine to install them on (which they get tied to), and not having to worry about a physical machine tied to one location is a huge benefit.

Things are changing again. While I like having the freedom of choosing how and where my data is stored, I also greatly appreciate the software as service model. This is a place where Amazon's model of how things are done falls way behind Google's. I love Amazon's content ecosystem, but I equally love Google's work ecosystem.

But...content. Our documents, images, and creations are the content we produce. To have an ecosystem that elevates our content on the same level as what we buy and consume is what I would love. To be able to click into an book cover I am working on as easily I can a movie on Amazon is my dream for how things should work. To be able to group things together in multiple ways, my stuff, their stuff, Noir, film, books, sad things, happy things, and be able to find them all, mine or theirs, is how I want things to work.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

CLS Romance: 28,000 Words, Book #1, Final Draft

I have had my CLS Romance Project book in the works for about 2 years, and I have finished it as a book #1. I was 17,000 words in when I picked it up last week, and now I am 28,000 words done and on my final draft. I am in final editing now.

It has sat a while. I needed to do some soul searching on where it was going to go. I had to throw out my plans and let the wind take me here, and I am happier that I have. Some projects take time, and when you revisit them, they come to life in surprising ways.

I am also putting this out as a book #1, and letting readers tell me if they want me to see a book #2 (and how fast they want to see it). I want this out and in readers' hands. How they react will determine a lot, if there will be a second book, where the story goes, and I need to judge reaction before I commit another 30K to finish this story. I know some may want this as a self-contained book, but I am making a choice to get this out, get feedback, or not have anything out at all.

This is a tough choice for me, since I like to stick to my plans, and I also like to finish things. Part of me wants to see reader reactions, because I have torn up all my plans, and I will be finishing this with the fans of it in mind. I would rather put out a book #1 with what I got than to have it sit and languish.

It is romance with a good bit of heat, I am wary to call it erotic romance since the sex plays a part, but not centrally so to the plot. It is more lesbian fantasy romance if you were to pin it down. It did end up hotter than I expected, and there are a pair of scenes in there that blister, but this isn't a book that seeks to get you from one sex scene to the next. There is a story here which is more important, and things which happen that need to happen.

Again, this may go a different direction based on what readers want to see. More fantasy? More heat? More romance? Right now, I have this balanced pretty well, and it feels wonderful to me. The ending of book #1 too is very nice, and I am happy with how this went.

So I am close, and in editing work again. This one will be released under my name as well and not Angel Black's, so it is a more normal type of book for readers that love my style. Angel gets to do all the fringe kinky stuff, and my releases tend to be more mainstream. Still fun and hot, but I like to keep my fans happy with distinct identities.

More soon, and I hope you will enjoy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Surface 3, sans Type Cover

Okay, Microsoft Surface 3 Type Cover, let's try getting rid of you for a while and seeing how things go. I know I love my physical keyboards, but I have never really found a keyboard cover that I loved. For now, it is just going to be the base unit and my leather case.

Yes, that one. It has room for the keyboard, but I am going keyboardless for a couple weeks to see how things go. My first impression?

I have my tablet back again.

My magnetic keyboard thing has been stuck on my Surface 3 ever since I got the thing, and the clingy nature of the keyboard cover is a great thing to have when you want to type out a thousand words or so for an article. But I have keyboards and machines better suited for this task.

Why not get rid of the leather over and just use the keyboard as the case? There is something natural to me about things I can flip open and use, like a book. I don't like ripping the magnetic cover off, using the tablet unprotected, and then clumsily snapping the thing back on like some sort of transformer toy. I don't like it, I don't like magnets for clasps, and it just doesn't feel natural for me. It's slick, but book covers typically aren't magnetic, and I am some sort of book purist I suppose.

I want a case that I can fold over, play around with a tablet without a clingy keyboard dongle, and then close up when I am done. I like the cover I got for my new Fire HD 10, and I like the simple "flip open" operation where it is just me and my tablet under a cover.

Yes, I know a big part of the point with snap-on keyboards is that laptop-like experience, but a magnetic cover is a poor laptop experience in every way that a laptop shines, especially if I am in a waiting room or smaller place and only have a lap for a top. If I were to do the Surface, plus case, plus cover as a laptop it would be a balancing act for three wiggly pieces and a painful way to sit for a couple hours in that one way things wouldn't slide apart to hell.

A laptop just does the whole mobile productivity computing thing better, sorry tablets.

At least for me.

Without the keyboard, things change. It is just me and my tablet, and I am happy again. The device wants to play and show me things, and I am not a slave to a mechanical keyboard anymore. This being Windows, it has its issues with touch, but things have gotten better with November's Windows 10 patch. The Android style "slide the programs off the task manager screen" way of closing apps is back, and I am happier not having to hunt for an tiny "X" in the corner of a postage stamp with a finger. Thank you, and tablet mode has just gotten a little more bearable for me to the point where I have my Surface 3 back in tablet mode.

Can it compete with the Fire HD 10? For entertainment, I don't feel so. The Fire is in a league of its own, and you are more buying it as an "Amazon entertainment device" than you are as a tablet. The Surface 3 is still about three times as heavy with either cover, keyboard or leather, so heavy it hurts my wrist to pick it up by it's edge. Even without the cover the Surface is about 1.5 pounds, compared to a pound for the Fire HD 10, yet it feels like a lot of difference in weight. I am in the market for a really light Surface 3 cover either way, but all of them I have been seeing are ones that integrate with the kickstand or keyboard and all I want is something simple and light.

It just feels strange to be enjoying the machine without the keyboard, like the keyboard cover is some floppy magnetic dongle that is clumsy and best left forgotten. With a folding cover, I don't need to store a hundred dollar keyboard anywhere if I want to get rid of it, I just flip back a lid.

Still, the heavy and thick nature of the Surface 3 makes the device feel like it's a chore to use. I love lightweight. I love easy. I love simple.

I wonder if this whole chase of the perfect tablet keyboard is somehow distracting and really counterproductive. Give me a way to connect a full-sized keyboard to the thing and give me a tablet cover that doubles as a stand, and I am good - and probably more productive.

For the road, give me a laptop or a Chromebook. If it is so cheap I don't shed a tear if it gets lost or stolen, all the better.

I like the Windows compatibility on the Surface 3, mind you, but there are times when the thing is booting up or updating I just want to scream. The instant-on and instant-library of the Fire HD 10 is nice, and by the time the Surface boots up and I am done logging in, I have likely changed my mind on what I wanted to see. With the Fire, there is an advantage to having my stuff instantly in front of me and organized. With Windows, I have to log into another layer of another program and search for things, and then back out again.

It is sort of an unfair battle between a lesser capable device meant to entertain, and a more capable work-focused device that entertains as an afterthought.

I have this feeling the future battle in mobile is not in file or even app management, but in content management under a consistent experience. Windows feels stuck in the past, where even the new update screen tells you "your files are where you put them." As long as they are there, in the cloud or somewhere safe I don't really care where they are. iOS and Android feel decidedly app-centric, like "these are your apps and this is where you put them." Again, it still feels like an older way of thinking about things, only you are worrying about apps and not files anymore.

The new Fire OS concentrates on your stuff, and also stuff you could have. Yes, it is like opening the doors to a store in your home, but I love having all my stuff out there in the front. I am not worrying about files and where I put them, nor am I worrying about apps and what opens them.

These are my books, this is my music, and these are my movies. I don't need to open any app or program up to see them. I can have apps and games, and they are there too.

But content is king.

The OS should serve the content, not the other way around.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fire HD 10

My ancient Nook HD 10 tablet died last week, and I got over $100 off a new Fire HD 10 to replace it. I knew about the drawbacks of buying into this device, and they are pretty significant. To be honest, the device has the following problems:
  • 1280x800 720p-ish screen (PDF documents do not look as good zoomed out)
  • Dual-core operation (quad-core inside, but either the slower or faster pair working at one time)
  • 1 GB ram (web browsing and tabs is my concern)
  • Drastically different UI from the previous Fires (though I like the new UI)
I still have my Microsoft Surface 3 Tablet and this is more of a laptop replacement than it is an entertainment tablet. The Surface weights something like 3 pounds (1.4 kg) with the type cover and case, so it is a heavy beast when fully kitted out. The Fire HD 10 weighs around a pound, so the weight difference is significant. I don't have a keyboard, but with an entertainment device, I don't need one.

To be honest, I would not have bought the Fire HD 10 without the holiday discount, but in a way I am glad I actually did. Despite all its limitations, it is a slick little device, and I enjoy the widescreen size. I know there isn't much in the way of future-proofing here, but the economics of cheap tablets are in another world than their expensive counterparts.

In my experience, tablets rarely last past 5 years, just because of their batteries and the technology degrades so rapidly. I am wary to buy a $500 tablet ever again, just because the replacement cost to service the battery (on my Note 10.1) was $300, or the cost of a new tablet. Paying $500 likely ensures you will get that full 5 years of service, but maybe it doesn't. What if a cheaper tablet with less functionality does just as well, and in five years, it is only another $200 to replace then?

It is the battle of good enough and cheap versus perfect and expensive.

How much tablet do you really need?

I have an iPhone, and I have the Surface 3 - so my heavy lifting needs are filled for the next five years. If I want to browse with a thousand tabs or edit a document, both will do that job well. PDFs look great on both the iPhone and Surface 3. My iPhone 6S will fit the bill for a small device, and it does Amazon well. My Surface 3 has issues, like not all traditional apps working or rendering well (Nook books is not that great on the Surface, using 60% of the screen in one corner). So why a Fire HD 10?

To watch movies, to have as a throw around the house device, to pick up as an instant web browser, as a 1 pound lightweight and large screened device, to read books, and to have as a travel device for movies. The Fire HD 10 has a SD-card slot (up to 128 GB) that you can use to store your own movies on for later viewing, or preload Amazon Prime movies for up to 48-hours of Internet-access free viewing. That is a huge plus when traveling for me, and the combination of that and and inexpensive device is compelling to me.

As a tablet that replaces a computer, it isn't so great. As a cheap entertainment device with SD-card capability, it is compelling to me, and I feel a worthwhile addition.

Why not an iPad? Or in that case, why not a higher-performance Fire HDX 8.9? Or a new Samsung? Price, honestly. That and the 'how much tablet do you need' question. There is a battle going on in the cheap tablet space, and I feel hardware specs are not really a central concern. We are talking support, ecosystem, and capability for price. You will give up some of the super-nice things, like high-resolution screens or tons of speed, but then again, you aren't paying $500 to $1000 dollars for these things. You are paying close to $200, where you could buy two or even three for the price of one.

Your calculus changes from specs to usability, from longevity to replacability. Yes, the technology in the Fire HD 10 is a year or two old, but are you really expecting today's technology at a price point of $200? The tablets I am replacing are closer to four years old (and both were originally in the $500 range), so it is all relative.

What is my dream device? A Fire HD 10 size with a high-resolution screen and the guts of the HDX 8.9 inside, with the SD card slot. But you see what is happening with the high-end tablets nowadays, they are going up in price past $1000 for the new Samsung Pro, iPad Pro, and Surface 4 devices. Even the Surface 3 was more of an iPad $500 price. I am sure a sportscar-like supersized Fire HDX 10 would be as expensive, and for what market? Many of the buyers have moved onto the Surface 4 or iPad, and the bottom feels like it is dropping out of the high-end market that isn't Apple or Microsoft.

But a lightweight $200 device supported by a big player focused on widescreen media consumption with a large screen and SD card slot? I am interested in that. Not for the same reasons I am interested in the more expensive alternatives, mind you, but I am interested in that.

And with over $100 off, the price was right.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

iPhone 6s Plus


Words cannot describe how good this phone is. Spare me the Android versus iOS rivalry and advocacy for just a moment, this is a great phone by the standard of "incredible pieces of technology."

I tried the base model iPhone 6 (non-wide), but I felt the screen was too narrow - especially for e-books. That was my benchmark for the phone I chose, opening up an e-reader like iBooks or the Google one, and then just sitting there and reading. If I cam going to pass the time in line or a waiting room somewhere reading books on my phone, I want the absolute best experience while reading. Surfing the web was also a benchmark, and the wider and larger screen did wonders here.

This is one of those things where you don't really know until you walk in the store and start doing the things you would normally do with a phone. You have to play, pretend this is your phone, and then start experiencing those "pain points" while you go through tasks you do every day. I hit a couple pain points on the normal iPhone 6 with that narrow screen that made me rethink going smaller. It surprised me because I walked into the store wanting the smaller iPhone, and it just didn't fit what I wanted in a phone.

To be fair, I gave the other Android models a fair shake too, because when you spend money you don't go all stupid-spendy on a fad or an advertisement. The newer Samsung models were nice and looked slick, but I was moving away from a Samsung ever since my Note 10.1 broke and the repair bill for a 4-year old tablet would have cost me $300.

I could buy a new tablet for that.

And speaking about Samsung, while in the store I fell in love with the larger Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 - even compared to the iPad Mini 4 and Air 2.Call me a glutton for punishment and "I won't touch without a 5 year warranty" but the screen on the new Samsung tablets were to absolutely die for (versus the iPad), and the incredible large area made reading and browsing on this really fun.

Two people could read and browse on this at the same time, which is really cool and I like the concept of cuddle time on a couch with a large tablet between two people. This is really unique, and I could see myself using one of these - which scares me because I have enough gadgets in my life.

Another thing I love about the new iPhone is how well-connected everything feels. There is one way of doing things for notifications and every other system, and yes, that limits your freedom, like no desktop widgets, live tiles, or other gadgets. But the way everything works together is done so well I don't notice. It does everything one way and it does it very well, built around the iOS model of how a person interacts with a device. You give up options and freedom, but you gain efficiency and an ease-of-use that is refreshing in this age of too many options and customized interfaces.

The walled garden here is also open enough that I can get my Prime video (with off wi-fi downloads, nice), my Nook books, my Kindle Unlimited books, and everything else I need. I need to do some research on Smashwords book imports as well to be fair, but I am sure there is a way.

The battery life on the iPhone is excellent, and I am practicing the 10% rule to extend the life of the phone's battery. You can't keep plugging them in and keeping them topped off, batteries like being drained fully and then recharged to extend their life. This means paying attention to the battery, and it is one of those things you do nowadays with electronics (it also limits how many things you want to own because keeping track of them all sucks).

So the new iPhone 6s Plus is a winner, strong recommend, and I have fallen in love with mine. I am slightly conflicted about the tablet side of things though, but I will keep soldiering on with my "it's really a notebook" Surface 3 for a while longer. The Samsung ones, for all my negative experiences with my last one, still appeal to me, and I need to check out the larger 12" iPad Pro when that comes out (but the iPad Pro's price is total sticker shock for me, the Samsung Pro is about half the cost). The OLED screens on the Samsung tablets blow me away still, and they are nice pieces of tech as well.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Queen of a Hardened Heart

How did we get so callous? So jaded? So uncaring of the plights of others and even ourselves?

When did we learn to close our eyes? Have we become so accustomed to terrible news and tragedy that we shut out the world and seek the safety of our own little circles and tribes? Do we see and hear so much that we can't take it anymore and want to hide in the fallacy of our own manufactured realities?

Forget virtual reality like the Occulus VR and others, many of us are permanently stuck in our personal realities. Fake worlds we build for ourselves with little lies about who we are in them and how people see us. Our own personal Wonderlands with the people we know playing Hatters and Cheshire Cats, nonsensical rules for our tea parties, and make-believe physics for how things work in our own little private worlds that we share with others who see us as a part of their own creation as well.

It feels at times that we are not a world anymore, we are a billion sets of eyes all looking out and each seeing a different one.

Of course in my world there is no suffering, no poverty, no injustice, and no corruption. There are no poor people living on the streets, and no mentally ill denied treatment to help them live normal lives. There is no abuse, no discrimination, and no singling out people to be bullied or insulted because of sex, race, or creed.

No one stands up and defends the bullied, for fear they would become bullied as well. If one person says, "this isn't cool" they will be dumped in with the others and laughed at as well. It is all a game, a heinous party of insults and mockery, and we laugh along drunk on our power to ignore and marginalize.

We laugh with the bullies for what they say to others, like this is somehow unreal and there isn't anyone real on the other side of that abuse. Our world is like the movies, where the actors can say the meanest things to each other for our entertainment and when the cameras stop everything is okay.

We turn off the phone and the computer and the movie is over, right? The homeless aren't still out there, the hungry have food now, or someone isn't crying over someone's savage and senseless attacks. When that little screen goes off, so do all the problems of that world.

Because we don't live in that world, do we?

Absolutely not.

The next time I log on, I will choose the news I want to see, tailor the world to how I wish to see it, and custom build myself a little Wonderland of my own choosing. This is about choice, is it not? I am a consumer, and consumers deserve the right to choose. I am the rabbit running around, and instead of endlessly being late, I am endlessly complaining about choice. My choice! My choice! I need more choice! I can choose to not see things which upset me, choose not to have my views challenged, and choose to silence everyone else who may disagree with me. With just a few clicks of a button it is done.

My own personal world with the Hatters, rabbits and Cheshire Cats of my choosing.

And I the Queen. I sit on my throne and laugh at those who scream "off with their heads" at anyone different than the a royal court custom chosen to fit my view of the world. Of course they would all agree with me, because I didn't pick anyone to be in my court who would think otherwise. Dissent? Off with their heads as I unfriend them and delete their posts.

I am the Queen of Hearts in my own personal Ministry of Truth. I have the power to unsee all whom upset me and challenge my rule.

And my party goes on with laughter and merriment for all whom I choose to exist.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tablet Mode Windows 10?

Tablet mode kinda sucks in Windows 10.

Seriously, I am finding any touch-based Surface 3 easier to use in desktop mode, even with my fingers.

Some of the apps I use rapidly switch between start menu and app, start menu and app in tablet mode, driving me crazy. Out of tablet mode? They work normally. I get this feeling app developers don't really test with tablet mode at all, and it is rapidly being forgotten.

I am still forced to hunt for tiny spots on the screen with my finger in either mode, so there is no real advantage to tablet mode other than a "hide my desktop" mode that doesn't work well with all apps anyways. Turning off tablet mode has actually made me feel more productive with this device than I have been in weeks. Things work like my desktop. When I get frustrated, I switch to the trackpad and that keyboard might as well be permanently attached.

I still like the ability to run Windows apps, don't get me wrong. It is just I have kinda given up on that dream that any of them will work well with a Windows tablet. For entertainment stuff like movies or books, okay, yes, the touch features work. The tablet is still too bluky and heavy to use without the kickstand for extended viewing or reading, and I find myself wanting a lighter weight solution for a pick-up and read or browse device. You know, you need to look up a recipe, so you pick up something light and instant-on and punch it in? Besides my phone I have lost that capability around the house and I am feeling the burn.

As it is with this device, I have mine wrapped up in a nice leather case and it is basically serving as a heavier-class netbook. And for instant-on Internet searches, I am using my Chromebook, which hurts because I really want a tablet for this.

But I am finding turning off tablet mode has made me a lot happier with Windows 10, and that is kind of a sad thing as I liked Windows 8 on a tablet very much.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Travel with Windows 10 on a Tablet

My Surface 3 has not traveled well on my current trip. To be fair, I gave it a chance and I even got it a new leather folio case, but it now just feels like a sub-par laptop. The touch-screen is nice, I like the size, and it runs well - but it just isn't a tablet anymore. It is a laptop.

I feel this is Windows 10's fault, and I am having real problems with some of the choices Microsoft made. In a desktop configuration with a mouse and keyboard, Windows 10 is better than Windows 7 and I love it. On a tablet, it is just horrible. They changed so much from Windows 8 I am wondering what they were thinking.

Just the "close open applications" interface frustrates me to no end, gone is the Android-style swipe the app away and close gesture, and you are back to clicking the X in the corner. Do you know how stupid it feels to always miss the microscopic X with you finger, accidentally open the application, and then have to go back to the task manager thing just to end up making the same mistake again? It is beyond frustrating and just plain stupid.

And this is in "tablet mode."

I sit here and wonder if I am missing something so obvious, but the default experience with the same machine is much worse from Windows 8. The vertical tile scrolling is painful on a widescreen, and I miss the Windows 8 interface badly. This is made for a mouse, and it feels like they forgot everything they learned with Windows 8.

I am starting to believe Apple is right, you can't mix the user interface paradigms of tablet and PC. What was simple on either a tablet or a PC now becomes something you have to know works this way if the machine is in that mode, or kinda-sorta works that way if the machine is in another mode. things that should be easy on a tablet are hard because this is a hybrid. My phone is easier than this. My workstation with Windows 10 is easier than this. My Mac is easier than this. I can't help from feeling a touch interface just messes things up.

Even Samsung's or Amazon's strange versions of Android are easier.

I want a true tablet again.

Light. A true tablet UI. Something easy to pick up and play. Something widely supported. Something I can just pick up and read a book with when I am bored, or go check Facebook or Wikipedia. Something simple that doesn't require knowledge of how something works in one mode versus another. Something where I am not hunting for a keyboard or a mouse to do something basic.

I like my Surface 3, but it is staying as a Windows 10 laptop. The new case helps, it pulls the floppy device together and makes it a nicely-protected laptop style thing. It is bulky and heavy now, which I lament. Even my Chromebook is lighter and thinner. Even without the case the Surface is bulky and needs the stand constantly. The case is staying on.

It's a nice case though. I like it.

We're not there yet on the convergence of laptop and tablet, and I don't see it happening with this generation of Windows (like we were heading towards with Windows 8). With an iPad or Android device, yes, I see it happening. The UI on either of those is still touch-centric enough to keep a strong design paradigm throughout the experience. There is one way to do something, and you don't need a mouse or trackpad. Keyboards are optional mechanical productivity devices.

It is the curse of providing people who make software with too many options. With Android or iOS, they build an app for touch first. With Windows, touch is an afterthought if an app supports it at all. Yes, my Surface runs desktop apps, but hardly any of my desktop apps work well at all with touch.

With tablets, there are purpose-built apps that do 90% of what my Windows apps do, and they are built for touch. They work. They don't require me to jump through hoops. I can export the data to my workstation if I need to. Why do I need to keep supporting Windows apps on a device that does not support them well at all? Why do I want a device where developers will treat touch as a second-class citizen?

To be productive on a tablet, I want apps that support the tablet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Thoughts From the Road

A hard life.

It's like you are always moving, heading down some road, and dealing with what's around the next bend. Watch those around you. Signal. Change lanes. Check speed. Put yourself somewhere safe for a while until you do this all again.

The sun comes up, you stop for gas, and get back on the road after a quick stretch.

It wears after a while. You begin to wonder with too much time alone. Your mind wanders. You feel the sting of impatience and there's nothing you can do except move on, on to the next town, and to the next place where you change roads.

There is a lot to see here. Good memories. Places you've never been or maybe have a time too many. Still, it is good to get out and away. It will be better getting home. It has been a long trip already.

Another car to pass, and another corner to wind around. A hill that seems to go on forever. You know the road ahead this time, as this part is familiar. You know how this goes. Over here, a turn there. The same exits. The same hills. A long boring part and a dozen more past that, with only highlights along the way to keep your thoughts preoccupied.

It is those dreams that kill you and keep you going on. Things you wish you could have done, places that you wished you could have been. Thoughts about the future. Escaping. Being free. Being out here, or going somewhere new. Things you wished you could do. Success you chase down these roads and then back to the same old familiar grind.

Back home.

A certainty in comfort. There is nothing like that place. The familiar. The warm blanket of security and days exactly like each other. The routine. The normal. A bed and bath all your own.

Memories fuel your desire. You want to be back there, back home.

There is a little more to do here, and you start to count the hours until the bags are packed and the car is loaded up for the last leg of this journey. The sun sets. Just a little longer.

Enjoy the moment.

The road calls, but there is an eddy of time now to reflect and reminisce. To consider where you have been and what you have done. To relax one last time before there is another car, another turn, and another impossibly long hill to climb.

Patience.

Something mother always used to say. Patience. Waiting for it. Putting in the careful hard work until it's done. Another turn, another stop for gas, and maybe finding a place to grab some food.

You count the hours until home.

The road seems to get longer and longer as the daylight fades.

Just another turn, another long stretch, and I'll be home.

Less is More

I want to experiment with writing less. With making fewer words mean more.

I want to boil things down. To make each word count.

I find more difficulty in being concise with being verbose. There is meaning to impart, and with less words, how is that done? Words must be carefully chosen. The statements I make must be strong enough to stand alone. To excise the extraneous. To trim excess.

To know when to leave something well enough alone.

For a point and a book can become belabored. It can overstay its welcome. It can become too much of a commitment for a reader's investment. It can wander. It can revel in the writer's own wit far too much.

There will be less of what I say, but what you get will be the very best. It shall not waste your time. It shall not wander. It shall not waste its energy carrying fat-filled and self-important prose. In our super-sized world where expectations are delivered in wholesale-club sizes, it is a seemingly impossible task.

To write less.

And to mean more.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Don't Believe Everything You're Linked

"The Internet is Outraged..." begins a headline posted on Facebook by some news organization looking for clicks, and it is usually followed by something some intern somewhere drug up and reposted. It doesn't even have to be outrageous, just mildly provocative, and then all the "news" has to do is sit back and watch the clicks and dollars come in.

That isn't news.

It isn't news.

This is called news organizations shirking their responsibility to provide information, and just sitting back, being lazy, and shitting out clickbait so they can inflate their web numbers and get a couple more bucks.

If that link was even created by a real person.

I seriously don't know what a news site is anymore, there are so many computer-generated pseudo-news sites out there that look real but are probably a product of some AI algorithm and no real person ever touches the content. They just forever skim the turds from most popular posts on Facebook and Twitter and present that as the news.

Breaking news? More like broken news.

And seriously, I couldn't give a damn what the Internet is outraged at today because the truth is it is outraged at everything everyday. And it will be outraged by something new tomorrow. Water is wet. Ice is cold. The Internet is outraged.

And some people bet on that 'outrage' so you will click on that next link, and depositing some virtual advertising coins into some account somewhere. Your eyes and those pop-up ads make you pay as you wait through twenty seconds of ads to end up feeling a little dumber for having clicked on that link.

"But," I hear myself saying, "I wanted to see what the outrage is all about."

Does it really matter? And seriously, why? So you can validate an opinion social media does not care about on an 'outrage' some computer selected as today's clickbait link? It reminds me of those science experiments they did in the 1950's where a rat in a maze would press a button and get fed an addictive substance, and the rat would mindlessly press it over and over again.

Why am I posting this?

Because I just fell for one.

Again.

That isn't news.

That wasn't a real news site.

A computer is creating all of this outrage for us.

Or, as they call it now, 'news.'

Get me out of this maze.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Battle of the Tablets 2015

This is one that I have been thinking about a couple months in with my Microsoft Surface 3 Tablet. We have seen a lot of tablets being released for the holidays, and also Microsoft is heating things up with their hybrid tablet launch. To me, it makes me think about what I like to use tablets for - especially as a writer.

"As a writer" is key here. This does introduce a level of implied functionality and support for accessories such as keyboards, but it also says the entire device has to rise to the level of a dedicated writing device. It has to be comfortable and easy to use. It has to be better than the alternatives. Cost is a factor. The number of devices is a factor. Portability is a factor.

If it can't hold a charge, is so expensive I fear taking it out of the house or leaving it in a hotel room, suffers from weak security, and isn't comfortable to use it is not a portable device. I should be able to unplug it, throw it in a bag, take it to a coffee shop, and instantly and comfortably start working on the device. Have I found a tablet that does that yet?

I have not.

Personally, I use a Chromebook for my on-the-go writing. The Surface 3 is a nice device and it runs Windows apps, but as a writer all I need is Google Docs, Office for the Web, or some other word processor. My Chromebook does what it needs to do, I can get the text out and formatted later, and it has that laptop form factor I love when I need to actually write on my lap.

The Surface 3 runs Windows apps, and I could run everything I need from the device, from idea to store submission. For that, it is a good device and a laptop replacement. The kickstand is not terribly lap-friendly, and it is heavy enough in the wrong places to make the contraption unwieldy when I am on the go. I dislike the traditional password-based security on this device, and it makes having the keyboard on there all the time a necessity because I do not use simple passwords. It is strange, but I am actually finding the Surface-style keyboard to be a larger negative than I expected when it comes to using the device. I would rather have a simple, non-keyboard cover and a fingerprint-enabled security device.

Yes, like the newer iPads.

Number one, they are what I pick up when I don't want to turn on a computer. I am putting a premium on size and weight here. They have to be on instantly, and not feel like you are hefting a slab of lead to get the answer to something you want to Google, or a Wiki page you would like to read on a subject. With my Surface 3 tablet, weight and thickness is admittedly up there, and the might-as-well-be permanently attached keyboard cover feels like a floppy and unwieldy dongle. While I love the keyboard, the entire contraption feels more like a laptop and not a tablet. It is a strange feeling, while I like these as productivity devices, I am a lot less willing to sacrifice comfort to be productive with one device.

It is sort of like answering the question, "What does a tablet do that my phone doesn't?"

For large-format tablets, it is mostly screen size and possibly side-by-side apps. The Surface 3 does a nice job with this. The Surface 3 does not get a spot in my "on the go" bag, like my Chromebook does, which is a negative for me. A Chromebook and any smartphone is a potent combo, and with wi-fi tethering, gives you an anywhere productivity solution as well. For me, the Surface 3 is a 10" tablet replacement for my long-dead Samsung Note 10, and also a Windows netbook replacement for home use only. While I miss having a 10" tablet for the road, it doesn't hurt too much.

Was the Surface 3 a bad purchase? No, I still love the device, and I still use it frequently around the house. It has replaced my Windows notebook actually, and it still is a great device to keep using the productivity apps I like to use on that system. It still feels like a notebook purchase though and not a tablet.

With a more-expensive device, such as a Surface Pro 4, I feel too many eggs are being put in one basket and I don't need that much power on the road. For what I do, write, I just need something basic and no-fuss.

How does a tablet fit into this "on the go" solution? For me, right now, they don't. Right now, I like tablets in the smaller form-factors (such as the 7" Kindle Fire or iPad Mini 4) as entertainment and reading devices. I am more likely to toss a Kindle Paperwhite in my go bag than I am a tablet, and I feel that is where the true battle lies for me. Does a small form-factor tablet beat a large smartphone? Does a small tablet beat the Kindle Paperwhite? For something like a Fire HD 7 and Prime, yes, there is a good value there as an on-the go entertainment device. With an iPad Mini, it is the app ecosystem you are more buying into and not really books or movies. Although Prime works with an iPad, you have to ask yourself is the app ecosystem there worth the extra money to you? It is a value question, really.

With a large smartphone, I don't really need a small form-factor tablet. With a Chromebook, I don't need something expensive for the road. But I still feel there is a gap there in the light and portable 10" area that my dead Samsung Note 10 used to fill for me. I could throw that in my go-bag and feel I was going to use it on a trip, and it was handy to have around. The Surface 3, even though it is 10", is too heavy and bulky to really fit in the 10" tablet space for me. With a tablet, I don't want to be a Windows system administrator, I want simple. I want push a button and on. I want something I can pick up and play with, and not have to kickstand it because it is heavy and bulky.

Yes, I miss my Samsung Note 10. I don't miss it enough to pay a repair cost that I could buy an entirely new tablet for though. When you buy into these devices you need to remember that many of them will break, and the service cost down the road will bite you unless you are in a great warranty and support system. With the Note, I made a mistake and I wasn't, so now I am feeling the pain of that impulse buy. I am more apt to go Apple or Amazon with my next 10" purchase just because of the warranty and support systems (though Amazon's newest budget tablets feel like a step down).

So my current top-10 criteria are:
  1. Size and Weight
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Support and Warranty System
  4. Cost
  5. Web Browsing
  6. Screen and Sound Quality
  7. Entertainment Value
    1. Reading
    2. Movies
    3. Music
  8. Productivity
  9. Apps
  10. Storage Options
An interesting list for this year, and yes, I am still feeling the loss of my Samsung Note 10, since it did most of the top ten well, except for of course, the support and warranty thing. We shall see where this goes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting Back Into the Swing

It has been a while, but I am getting back into the swing of writing. There have been too many distractions lately, and the constant din of the day after day can drag on you.

Yes, the new keyboard is wonderful.

I may have some voice dictation updates to report on soon as well, but I need some more practice and data to make a final verdict on the product. More on this soon.

Refocus time...that is helping. More on a couple projects very soon as things ramp back up.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Logitech Illuminated Keyboard K740

With a new setup comes the need for a new keyboard, and I am trying out the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard K740 for a while.

I like this one because it mimics a more laptop feel, instead of the big, high mechanical keys of my old (gamer) keyboard, this one is flatter, with a crisper feel and a shorter stroke to the keys. I type really well on the Mac keyboards, and I wanted one that has that same feel, but with a tad bit more travel to the keys, but not too much.

I love the feel of mechanical keys, but the sound does get to be a bit much, especially if one is on Skype or voice chat with friends.

This is wired and backlit, two must-haves, and the spacing is a bit wide, but I am sure I will get used to it and be flying along soon. It feels good, and it also types good, so I expect to be back up to my normal non-dictation speed very soon.

At least I won't be missing capital letters. Sometimes with really high and soft keys, you won't get a full press, and you will leave an error trailing off in your wake. You know how that goes.

Overall, this feels heavy and flat, which I like, since again this has that laptop feel I wanted for a workstation keyboard. The letters are also very clear and almost large-type, so they are highly noticeable and recognizable right off. This one also has a very large oversized delete key that reminds me of the old IBM keyboards, one you can pinky over and whack to wipe out things which do not please you. Nice touch.

I will let you know how this goes in the next couple weeks, and give you a feel for how writing with this keyboard is for me. Until then, I'll see you between the pages.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Summer Cleaning is Done

Oh, am I tired, but it was worth it.

My keyboard is clean, my workstation shines, and my environment is shiny and new. A printer no longer boxes me in. Desks were moved. Dust was removed by the bucketful. A window is closer. More light flows in. Cables have been bundled and tied. Computers were moved, cleaned, dusted, and everything plugged back in.

Where I work is new again.

I hate getting into a rut, and having a place to work so cluttered I can't think my way out of it. this is good. It is new, and it is clean. Is it perfect? No, the keyboard I replaced my old one with isn't the best, so I am looking to replace that with something snappy and fresh.

It transfers to your work, I know it does. You can't be in a negative place and do your best work, and putting in some sweat and cleaning into the place where you create is a part of the self-improvement process. You have set yourself up for creativity and success. You have cleaned things up. You have made where you dream a better place to imagine and create.

Even my piano is within reach, dusted, and ready for life and sweet music. I am a happy person.

Will it get stale again? Most likely so. In six more months I shall be back here again, and my creative space will be dingy, and my energy drained by untidiness. But for now, it is spring again, and where I work and what I do has a fresh look and a clean feeling. It is a blank sheet of paper where I shall take my next steps. It is mine again.

Now, for a nap.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Writing Area Revamp

We can't write in a bad place.

Just like we can't truly cook in a messy and inadequate kitchen, or relax in a place with smells and distraction, we can't write in a place focused on clutter and negative energy. I am currently in a state like this, my workstation lost in a sea of clutter and objects which drain instead of inspire, take away rather than add, and remind me of too many negative thoughts.

It's time to clean house.

So I plan, I need to move this here and that there, the route needs to go in another room, the cables need to be tied and bundled. The printer, out of here, and the rest of everything else focused and cleaned and in a different way with the negative removed and the positive accentuated. things have gotten too cluttered and frumpy, layers of lazy thoughts, piles of paper like sediment, and the ever present threat of negative reinforcement.

So plan I do, and clean I must. All this needs to go, to be shuffled around, organized, replaced, moved, vacuumed, dusted, and made new again. I have too many little pieces of junk in my cone of vision which rob me of free thought, and it is time for radical change. Notes for work, notebooks, pens, computers, cables, phones - all of it, visual garbage, and it needs to go. I need to pull up a black plastic bag and remove that which gets in the way of creativity and love. I need to clean. I need to focus. I need a fresh start.

So there will come a time the computer gets turned off, the chair moved, the desk pulled out, the shelves cleaned, monitors unplugged and moved, and I shall get to start over again. I need this, and it has gone on too long. I need this refreshening, I need this new beginning, and I need this wiping down of the grime of work, and reveal the clean sheen of creative thought.

It is time.

Tomorrow shall be the day, and even if I have to spend all day at it, I shall get what I want. For piece of mind and clarity of thought are precious, and a clean slate to express myself on is what I need right now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Surface 3 and Windows 10

I hope Windows 10 and this awful shade of lime green grow on me.

First off, I want my horizontal scrolling back. In tablet mode, I know the few of us that have windows tablets, I liked side-to-side scrolling. When you think of it, side-to-side scrolling on a widescreen device makes sense, since you are using the full width of the screen for selection. Making the live tiles in tablet mode go up and down is just lame.

The groups are too narrow, I need an extra medium tile in each one to fill this incredibly wide gutter space between them. Now that tiles are the start menu, I feel that we are stuck with narrow tile groups forever. Also, there is now less information on my screen in tablet mode because of the supersized gutters. Why have live tiles?

I liked the multi-colored tiles too. Back in Windows 8, I would have love to been able to pick colors rather than have them assigned to me at random, but I made due and I had a bunch of fun colors arranged for apps how I liked. Now, all of my apps are the same damn color of lime green.

Later on, I discovered you could change the tile back color in Personalization. They auto-set the color based on the background, and it came out the worst shade of lime green that ever graced a computer screen. I still want to be able to customize them individually.

Do you know how long I took getting my tiles back the way I wanted them? Seriously. And all my file links for PDFs and web pages were turned into store icons. It's like paying someone to come in and mess up your house.

Why did you take away the desktop app in tablet mode? I liked being able to work in desktop mode, switch out to the Windows 8 UI and do some things, and then do back to my desktop and work there. Now, I have a layer of live tiles between me and my desktop all the time in tablet mode.

The bottom-left corner is too cluttered! From the bottom going up I have Windows button, all apps, and then power. It is too easy to press the wrong one. Left swipe in tablet mode is a task manager with preview windows, and not a swipe-between-open-apps. I was used to the old way. There's another triple-line thing in the top left that looks and feels like the same as "all apps". Strange. One way to select and launch apps, please.

I will get used to it, but I dislike change. Windows 8 made sense on a tablet, and I am sad to see it go in that context. Now, it seems the desktop world has taken over, and made Windows tablet use more uncomfortable, at least for me. My strong recommend? Ugh, let's drop that to a normal recommend. The ease-of-use for Windows 10 tablets has suffered, at least for me.

Stop laughing, desktop users. Today is a good day for you.

My first thought was, wow, even the Kindle Fire UI is a lot easier to use and more straightforward. Yes, I need this to act like a PC at times, but no, I don't want desktop stuff forced on me. Not on a tablet. This feels complicated-y and confused-y. In the world of Android, Amazon, and Apple tablets, they are designed for touch, with PC-like devices and add-ons supported. This feels like a desktop OS forced into a tablet mode, like the old Win7 and XP for tablet operating systems.

Maybe I will get used to it.

But really, that's never a good thing to hear.

Or maybe...tablets will never be great productivity devices, and be for entertainment only. Are there too many hacks and tradeoffs to get a tablet to work like a PC? I am slightly depressed at all this, but give me time, I will figure it all out.

Windows 10? Strong recommend for desktop users, and an initial-impression soft recommend for tablet users.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Change Refocus

There comes a point in life, personal and professional, where you refocus.

You are at a point in your life where can slog through more of what you don't love.

Or you can start thinking about the things you do love, and focus on those.

You know the feeling. It is a process of letting go, of admitting you are grinding gears trying to get up a hill you never wanted to climb, and making lists in your mind of those things.

Those things you love.

Those things you don't.

You reaffirm things too. I love writing. I love sharing. I love creating. You need rocks upon which to stand. You need things you love. You need building blocks. You need mortar and wood with which you shall build upon your foundation.

You need to realize your foundation and what that is built from. You have skills, things which you are very good at, and these things are your foundation. If you do not love the rock upon which you build, everything shall be for naught. Success is built upon the rock of love.

You collect things in your mind. I love this, I like that. These are the things of which I do. These other things are not so important. These other things I despise and dislike, and I choose not to make them a part of my life. You gather things even without a course set or a destination planned, you pack together the things which you wish to take with you on your next journey. You realize the true worth of objects. You lighten the load. You start valuing the things you need.

Things sitting right in front of your face which you have discounted take on new importance.

The trivial and the items of vanity you thought you had a passing interest in become the core of your being. Those were the things you really loved, and you never knew it. You collected them almost subconsciously, or perhaps it is fate, and you realize the new importance of things you dismissed as the mundane.

You refocus, and this takes a little calm peace of mind. The picture may appear for a moment, and you play with the lens, and something more important appears and the image in your mind becomes clear. Or it doesn't and you keep playing. There is the technique of the calm, patient, and collected mind you hone by adjusting your focus, looking, seeing, and considering. You make more adjustments, consider, and keep trying. Things start appearing. These things stick in your mind and become pieces of your creative core.

You learn through the small movements. You adjust with the gathering weight of experimentation. You build a creative dream, a process of looking, observing, listening, and thought. One by one, you collect, consider, and reflect the pieces upon the whole. It may come all at once, or it may take a while to focus and see the larger dream.

The only thing you commit to in this phase is yourself. The floating notion of a dream. The things you love and where they call you to.

You rest.

Yet your mind wanders.

You let the pieces of the past go.

A new picture becomes clear.

And a magic moment appears where you can see it take form. You can see it take shape. And all of a sudden a thousand puzzle pieces floating around in your head line up all at once and you more feel the rightness of your path that you can see the product of your imagination.

And then, the first step is taken.

Change.

Refocus.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Surface 3 at One Month

We are at the one-month mark with my new Microsoft Surface 3 Tablet, so how is it going?

I wish tech reviews did this, gave you reviews after the initial rush of excitement, and spent some time with the device and reported back on how it is to actually live with the thing. When you buy a piece of electronics, it becomes a member of your home and your workflow, and spending some time with it without the pressure of a review deadline really lets you know if this is going to be a happy member of the family, or something you regret and just live with. I have a number of items that I just live with, and they seemed wonderful out of the box, but they had issues or somehow didn't live up to expectations later on.

I'm probably going to wait a couple months before doing the next review, because the one week and one month touch-points are good intervals to check in with, so I will do my next "living with" review on this in 3 or 6 months after this one.

The battery life is good. This thing has a standby time that feels like weeks, I open it up after a week of non-use and it still has a workable charge. I am being good to the battery and draining it down below 10% between each recharge, because I want this tablet to have a great charge time and stay useful away from power outlets.

The SSD speed seems to have improved since I started with this tablet, as updates feel snappier. I don't know if there is a caching time involved when the machine is new, but I am noticing less long waits for these sorts of disk operations.

I still love the kickstand, and I managed to find a use for all three positions. It needs that kickstand though, since this thing is on the heavy side and not as comfortable to hold as a Kindle Fire 8.9 or an iPad. With the keyboard, it is as heavy as a laptop. I think weight and bulk is the device's big weakness, yes it is inexpensive, but the trade off is the thickness and losing the 'magical light quality' of the iPad, which really is a huge deal. This feels more like a portable TV set and productivity device than it does a 'magic window' type of device.

To some this may matter a lot, to others it may not. I can see this mattering for me, with one exception.

The full-PC functionality though makes the 'magic window' trade-off worth it, at least for me. This runs all of my productivity apps, and it runs a fair number of games very well. For productivity PC tasks, this does a very nice job. It also does a great job with the touch, even in non-touch apps. I still keep a Bluetooth mouse handy for the scroll wheel though, things like Steam and certain apps live off that wheel and it shows. What I would give for all web and app designers to properly integrate drag-scrolling. Get with the future people!

Do I pick up and use the device? This is a big one. Is the device attractive enough that you want to pick it up from time to time when it is convenient and you need to do web tasks? For me, this is a yes. I didn't feel my Kindle Fire 7 or even my Samsung Note 10.1 was as useful in this regard. The Fire 7 had an issue with keeping bookmarks and things in the order I liked, since I was constantly at the mercy of the Amazon carousel. With the Note 10.1 it was a little better, but the Samsung bloatware and the lack of the older Android's ability to cleanly organize things held me back. With Android 5.0, organization looks better, but my Note never lived long enough to get that update.

If Samsung ever shipped the new Android for my Note, I don't know since it is stull broken, and I hate the update lag many companies use with Android to force you to upgrade to a new device. At least with Microsoft and Apple (and to some extent Amazon), the devices are supported directly by the company, and they want you to have the latest and greatest.

With the Surface 3, I have tiles for all my junk (sites and apps), and they stay and go where I want them to without fuss. I need to go check a site, turn on, flip over, and press. I like the Windows tile interface better than the iPad's icon interface, or even Android's hybrid icon and widget affair. It feels clean, had live tiles to check out stuff, and lets me customize things nicely. It loses points for not having a way to turn a file into a tile, and I have some PDF books I like to read that I would like to have easier access to on my start screen.

The keyboard works well, and I like being able to rip it off with the magnets and turn this thing into a tablet. It snaps on super simple too, you don't have to line things up. The keyboard also works as a cover, so I am happy with the dual use. The trackpad works, but it is way too small to play games or do any sort of detail work. A mouse is still required if you have a lot of crossover PC apps and games.

Some games did not like the Intel graphics drivers, and I think this is an OpenGL issue or something. Many do, and this does a good job streaming video or games over Steam to play on the device. I use this function rarely, but it is fun.

For reading? I like this device as a reader for PDFs, since it is high-resolution and color, and the PDF programs work well. For ebooks this does a good job as well, but it is mainly a stand-based reader for me rather than something I would sit there and hold with one hand. My Kindle Paperwhite still is the queen of ebook reading devices for me, and I could see how some would prefer an iPad because of the weight and ability to do both and read comfortably.

For movies? This is a very nice device, it streams well, works with Netflix and Youtube, and the stand is a huge plus. The Fire still has Amazon Prime movies and TV shows as Fire tablet exclusives, and that was a sore spot for me with the Note. Since this is a full PC, it can watch Prime TV and movies no problem, even full screen or to a television via a cable. This is a huge plus, and worth considering when you are making a tablet purchase. Prime is huge if you are bought in, and because of that I feel the Surface 3 and the Fire tablets are better buys if you are into entertainment. The Fire of course has an insane resolution and light weight, so it would be my iPad/Note 10.1 replacement should I ever need one.

Would I ever need another full-sized tablet is the question? I would think the only thing is the weight thing and one-handed use, along with Prime and the Kindle Fire's very nice speakers. It is a maybe, really, but this does most of what I want it to plus more, so I am sticking with this. A new Fire tablet would feel like a vanity purchase for me, and not a needed one.

Productivity and features are top-of-the-line. I recently learned how to snap apps side-by-side, and this is very cool. I like being able to do research and write in a second pane, and this raises my productivity to a new level, especially when I am doing reviews and need to refer to the source material. Do not underestimate side-by-side snapping, and there is a reason that Apple is copying this feature for the new iOS.

I have a fear that Windows 10 will change how I like to work with this, so I hope they don't change too much or I will stick with 8.1 and my comfort zone. I'm not going back to the old start menu way of doing things! We shall see.

This is still worthy and I am using it daily, so it has stood up to my workload and schedule. I also find it useful when my computer is busy updating or I need to check something quick, and I can quickly grab it and do what I need to do. I am still happy I got this as a Note replacement, and I am not feeling buyer's remorse. Still a strong recommend.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Short Stories

I love short stories.

There is no better format for writer development than the short story. I started my writing career writing short stories, and I shall continue to do so in the future. Short stories allow for greater reader feedback at a more rapid pace, and they allow writers to explore their craft without committing to a full-length novel each time.

I love writing short stories.

Short stories are harder to write than novels. With a novel, it's time. With a short story, it's focus. A writer has to be very crafty to get everything in and in a concise form with a short story, there simply isn't the time to dawdle around and let things slow simmer. This takes a lot of experience and writer skill, and keeping things moving and to the point tests your skill as a writer to pick out what is the most important and be very expressive with the few words you do have.

I love reading short stories.

Yes, I do. I don't feel 'ripped off' because a story is short - not everything needs to be a 300-page epic with fourteen books in the series. I enjoy the short format just like I enjoy TV shows that are a half-hour, like comedies and other quick-bite shows. I like sampling writers, and reading shorts. I like it when a short captures my imagination and leaves me wanting more. I love the free-form and experimental nature of short stories, and the freedom they give us as readers to experience a new world in not that much time or commitment.

I love episodic short stories.

I know there are some that feel that these make readers wait, or this is trying to make more money off one idea, but I still support them and write them myself. I love episodic works, and I love waiting for the next installment. Like a TV show 'you have to catch the next one' that only comes every week, these are an addiction of mine and I love the anticipation. I also like the time they give writers to explore the idea, see what works, and make changes 'mid-season' to make the entire experience for the reader better.

Quantity does not imply quality.

This said, short stories as a shared and creative genre may be in trouble. We have had some recent changes to book-borrowing services (such as Kindle Unlimited) that pay writers by the page read. I felt this was a good move, but it could put writers of shorter stories as a disadvantage - or make them feel that 'longer is better' just so they can get paid what the system thinks they should be paid. Putting an emphasis on length is dangerous, and at least the system goes by 'pages read' instead of length borrowed. With read pages, if a writer puts out ten short stories and avid readers read them, this is the same pay as one story of 10-short story equivalent length.

It is all very early to start panic or making judgments, since it is still too early to tell what is going to happen - so we wait. I would hate to see short stories start disappearing from book-sharing services, since this is where I want them to be. I want short stories out there to sample, and to discover new writers. I want episodic content released to enjoy, and I like the shorter formats.

I don't want to see 300-page anthologies of random short stories, forcing me as a reader to do the sifting and sorting to find the gems in the junk. We don't need to super-size our books, or cram everything into a giant burrito and call it a meal. I like being selective, finding an expertly crafted miniature masterpiece, and enjoying it in the solitary vision the writer intended.

Sometimes, a lack of quantity is a quality all in itself.

It takes skill to cut the crap out. It takes skill to present a complete idea in a short format without wasting space and adding in content that doesn't deliver an experience relevant to what we came to see. Where would horror be if HP Lovecraft had to write full-length novels instead of his mystifying and chill-inducing short masterpieces? With shorts, we are left with that sense of 'more and wonder' that certain genres need to thrive on. In editing, we boil down, and we cut to make a story better.

Everything 'not' the story should go. That is editing.

I can think of many books that would have been improved to a great degree with more cut out, than more added. Yes, our hubris makes us think as writers that readers will hang upon our every word, and thrill at the smallest and meaningless detail we add about a character's life or the history of a place we bless a reader's eyes with - but the opposite is often true. The more we cut, the better something gets. The more fat and gristle we cut, the better steak we deliver to the table. The more intense the experience, and the better experience the reader will have with every bite.

Readers do get bored, even the ones who love every word we write. We need to make every word count, and this is why the short story is so difficult to craft well. This is also why they are important. Now, there is also an issue with under-developed stories being too short and bland, but this is something else one discovers when a short story is crafted. It's easier to see, and it is easier to take in.

I hope focused anthologies of shorts arise, put together by collectors who know what needs to be said and delivered, and I hope the short story lives on. I hope readers value the short and continue to read them all the way to the end, give feedback, and support the genre.

The short story is not dead. How they were being sold and marketed may be, but I sincerely hope writers of short stories continue on to thrill us, challenge assumptions, and deliver bite-sized, intense experiences that change our perceptions and expectations.