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Category: Personal (page 1 of 274)

Personal notes

Where have all the posts gone? A brief interlude.

It seems to me that there is plenty enough for us to read about in the world these last few months. I don’t want to make this political, and I don’t know about you, but following the US election this past November, I’ve had a lot to think about.

It’s been pretty distracting to be frank.

In addition to all of that, there has been real life. Nothing sad, nothing overly dramatic, but real life will always win when pitted against less critical activities (which, in the scope of things, writing is at the moment). But more on at least one of those real life interruptions a little further down. First, let’s talk about writing some more.

I see there are still people out there reading what I write, which is a crazy concept to me. Somehow, I’m still getting nibbles on A Scent of Roses. I don’t check in on the book as obsessively as I did when I first put it out there, so imagine my surprise when I found a decent review of the book on Amazon. (By the by, if you’ve read the book, even if you didn’t like it, please consider leaving a review. Even bad reviews are better than no reviews. Thanks!). Every month, I get a small sales report – not quite Happy Meal buying sales, but a few bucks never hurts. And I’m still pushing out short stories, even though I haven’t done more than draft out a few new ones in a while.

So, what am I working on? Well, I still have a couple of almost completed manuscripts sitting here, waiting for their final words to make their first drafts complete. I’ve pulled A Mountain Fell From Heaven out and am trying to give it a proper ending before I go through and rewrite part of it (there’s a scene at the beginning that was all about me trying to be grim and edgy and adult and it just grates on my nerves every time I think about it, so I’m tossing it). I have a sequel to Chrysalis going through the early stages of the first draft (about 30k written, with a rough flow chart of where it’s going), and if I ever find the time I’d like to get back to my YA novel, A Fool’s Gold.

All of that is TBD, though. While this is all actively on my writing road map for the year, and I even get a chance to work on some of it a few times a week, it’s still a long ways off from being submission worthy. I’m still trying to get eyes on Chrysalis, though my hopes of finding a publisher for it are dwindling. I think if I make it to May without even a hint of a bite, I’m going to publish it myself, using what I learned with ASR to do it better.

Later this spring, I’d also like to re-release ASR. The decision to publish on Amazon, and the actual publication, all happened in the span of a weekend last summer. While I still can’t afford to get the book properly copyedited, and I’ve already lost sales for the people who have tried it and dismissed it because of typos, I feel like it would be a good move to re-release it, this time with some better spell checking and common/easy typographical mistakes corrected. I don’t want to change the content – that feels like it would be a cheat, even if I’m aware of at least one continuity flaw now that I missed when hitting publish. But I would like to take an opportunity to clean up the prose a little bit (drop that’s, etc., fix obviously mistaken spelling mistakes, etc.). I’d also like to add some front material (namely to explain what this revision changed), and some end material to encourage people to leave reviews and how to find me online. I think one of the newbie mistakes I made when I published was in not including a way of keeping in touch and giving feedback.

With my writing roadmap for the year pretty much determined (revise ASR, release Chrysalis myself if I can’t find a publisher, and at least finish two other novels), why am I waiting so long to do something about it? Why am I waiting until May, over two months, when I have everything at hand now?

When we moved out to California just under two years ago, we knew this wasn’t to be a permanent home. We didn’t know how long we would stay, but we were pretty sure we weren’t going to stay in the Bay area forever. While on a family vacation this past fall, we took some time to visit Portland, Oregon, and fell in love. While still on the West Coast, there are seasons, which (shocking everyone) we missed. Plus, there is an atmosphere in Portland that just fits our groove. After a lot of talk, and then a lot more talk at the office, I got permission to be a remote employee again. I have my lessons learned from the last time I was remote, so I’m not doing this blindly.

In January, we flew up to Portland again, but this time we were on a mission. We scoped out and started paperwork on a house. Occupying my time this spring, then, will be our move from the Bay area up to Portland. We’re excited (more than the kids, I admit, who see it as just another disruption after only a few years since the last one), with a four bedroom house and an actual yard to look forward to.

Which brings me back to my writing. While I am still working hard (sometimes), I am making no plans to finish or publish anything new before the move is over. But maybe I can get away with a few more blog posts. I’d forgotten how cathartic they could be.

On Comic Book Reading

First up, I wanted to share this article from Polygon – DC Comics’ Rebirth worked because it’s actually good. Long read, but well worth it, and to be honest I happen to agree on many accounts. I tried buying into the new 52 when it came out, avoiding some of the bad (Starfire scantily clad? really?) and focussing on the fresh retelling of some of the “core” characters. Aquaman in particular caught my interest, and I really enjoyed it. For a while. But I’m part of that percentage of sales Susana mentions, that initial bump that later just faded away. With the two major comic book publishers going through yet another reset this last summer, I stumbled away from reading all together. But maybe there’s something to reconsider here.

Marvel’s song is no better to my ears, I have to admit – and yet I bought into Marvel Unlimited. Why? Because while a lot of the current story arcs are of no interest to me, MU gives me access to the entire digital history of Marvel. I can read (so long as it’s been digitized), every issue that came out in any month ever. Think about that for a second, comic readers – imagine if you could have a retroactive pull list that covered every title for only $10 a month. We all know there are little hints and tie-ins, usually nothing that affects the main story line, but always present between related comics. With MU, you can actually sit down and read every issue published in January of 2015 (for example) and build that complete picture. By the way – there are 70+ titles from January of 2015 available. At an average cover price of $3, that would have been over $200 in comics.

I know some folks out there are just scratching their heads and wondering – why comics? The best I can offer is that they offer a little something to the creative brain, pulpy stories that lay the bed for further what-if’s. Even when they reset the entire universe you’re enjoying to start the characters over again in a new mould.

The cheap Kindle Fire

Almost 16 months ago, I bought one of the (then) new $50 Kindle Fire’s. There were a couple of factors in the purchase, but ultimately what convinced me was the price tag. At $50, I didn’t expect much, but figured it was worth the risk. What follows is my impression after 16 months of using the device.

TL;DR – good if you are looking for a really cheap media tablet for reading and watching videos.

My Setup

I started with the basic model, with ads. Not long after buying it, I added an SD card for additional storage. While I use the card (more on that below), the card I bought is almost too big for my needs. If you can afford to add the SD card, and depending on your use case, it’s definitely worth it, but it isn’t a requirement. At some point, long after my purchase, I also paid to have the ads removed, but that’s really a cosmetic issue. It is perfectly reasonable to spend the money on the unit and never expect to spend more on it (unless you want a case). Now, on to the review of the product itself.

Reading

It only makes sense we should start here – this is a Kindle, after all, and while the tablets may have all of the flare of color and moving pictures, ultimately they started out as a means of reading digital books. Accessing my Amazon library, reading books, etc., works flawlessly. I still have issues with synchronizing between devices not always working correctly – but that’s been an issue I’ve seen whenever synchronization is involved and isn’t specific to the Fire. If you expect to read on multiple devices, be ready for synchronization to not always work like you expect. Or to work perfectly. It really is that random.

Of course, reading on a tablet is considered bad for the eyes, at least at the end of the day. The Fire has a blue light mode now that is supposed to reduce eye strain, although my few experiments with it have been less than conclusive. If you are strictly a book only person, never to deviate, then I really recommend the e-readers. They have better battery life and are easier on the eyes. That said, reading magazines on the Fire is a lot more pleasant visually than on the Kindle, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

But what about reading with non-Amazon materials? After all, while locked to the Amazon app store (Sort of. More on that below.), there are still plenty of other reading apps you can use. Personally, I use my Fire to read my Feedly articles on when I need a break from the computer. I also have Pocket setup, so I can browse and read articles I’ve saved for later. Comixology, now owned by Amazon, works perfectly, though that should not be a surprise.

Videos

Amazon Videos, which as far as I know is best with a Prime membership, works out of the box on the Fire. Watch TV shows, movies, etc., just as you would expect. The screen is smaller than your mammoth TV, no doubt, but for a personal viewing it’s just fine. If you happen to have an SD card, you can even download media to it for 30 days (you could also download to internal storage, but there’s a lot less of that available).

Of course, if Amazon Video was all we needed, no one would watch videos (sorry). Luckily, the Netflix app works great on the Fire (assuming you have an account – I hate to have to caveat that, but these are the times we live in). A few weeks ago Netflix added the ability to download parts of their library to your local device, which sounds great. Unfortunately, it isn’t configurable, so you can’t tell it to use internal storage (yet?). On my moderately loaded Fire, that meant I could only download one episode of a 42 minute show before being warned I was almost out of storage space on the device. My other quip with the Netflix downloader is that the whole point (to me) to download something is to be able to watch it when you’re offline. I’m not sure if this is a part of the nature of the Fire, or the Netflix app, but when I went to watch my offline episode from the BART, I was prompted to login into Netflix first. Ack. I tethered for a few minutes while I logged in and accessed the episode, but that isn’t an ideal solution for anyone. I’m really hoping that’s something I messed up, because that seems like a serious design flaw otherwise.

Unsurprising, the Hulu app works just fine on the Fire. There’s even an app for my cable provider to watch shows and live TV “On Demand.” It works about as reasonably as expected.

Of course, whenever you watch video on a small device, battery life is a concern, and the Fire is no different. Bingeing for a few hours will leave the device almost drained, though to be fair that’s the same with most smartphones these days.

Comics, Games, and other apps

I have to tread careful ground here, because I am not opening myself to be your tech support. The Amazon app store is big, but it isn’t huge. There are a lot of applications that they have chosen not to incorporate as supported on their devices.

That doesn’t mean they don’t work.

In fact, many of them work just fine (the Fire’s are Android tablets under the surface, after all). For example, although I have comics in Comixology, I have also recently taken part in a sale on Marvel Unlimited subscriptions (all of their digitized comics from forever for $10 a month). Unfortunately, the app is not supported on the Fire – but it does work. If you disable the requirement blocking non-Amazon apps from installing (a toggle in a top level setup menu on the Fire), you can install the package for Marvel Unlimited directly. The screen size isn’t perfect – the screen is only barely big enough to read a full page at a time without strain, and guided view really requires you to turn on Auto-Rotate to deal with the crazy mix of pane sizes – but it works. And given how little I paid for this device, that’s an investment that seems to be worth it.

What about games, music, and other apps? I honestly don’t know. I use my Fire strictly for reading and viewing materials. Our kids have nicer Fires and have, in the past, played cooperative Minecraft with theirs, but I don’t think the cheaper chipset of the $50 Fire is up to that task. I certainly would not recommend it if that’s what you’re looking to do with it.

Conclusion?

It’s not always the best device for the job – there are just days where the form factor is wrong, or my eyes are too tired to deal with the lit screen, whatever – but at $50 for an initial purchase over a year ago, it was well worth it. The battery life could be better, but you get what you pay for, and sometimes, a little bit more.

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