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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thought of the Day: Life in the Words

The more you write, the better you get.

The more you read, the better you write.

That last part?

Accepting reading as one of your most important forms of entertainment. The more you want to read, the more you will read, and this sets everything else up.

Because the more you read, the more you will want to write.

Movies can only go so far. CGI and visual effects can only do so much. Games can only show so much. Music can only be heard. Pictures can only be seen.

Books are imagined.

And imagination is limitless.

You have to get used to living a life in the words. Your consciousness is trained to imagine, to reflect, and to take shapes and letters and turn them into living, breathing people and vivid, incredible places. It gets better with every book read, and sooner or later you will have an imagination trained to show you images better than any $250 million dollar movie or AAA video game. You will be able to turn any story or any script into the most amazing blockbuster the world has ever seen, and it's all right inside your head.

You will have dreams about these places, and go to places in your head that the writer put down in words. The world in your head will become so real to you that you could almost touch it, taste the air, and walk among its inhabitants.

It's all inside you. That's the secret.

The more you live life in the words, the better life gets.