I crashed on Piggy Island…

May 3, 2014

So, friends and followers, you may ask what I’ve been up to since the A to Z challenge and Camp Nanowrimo wrapped up this year.

The plan was to dive into critiques for the TNEO workshop and short story revisions.

Instead, I’ve been spending a lot of time gaming on my iPhone. 😉

Back in March, I downloaded Angry Birds Epic. It’s currently in an iOS soft launch for the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand App Stores only, so you might not be able to get it on your own mobile device until the wider release later this year.

But I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and losing a lot of time to it. Instead of the usual Angry Birds slingshot game format, this is a turn-based adventure game. You start as the Red bird, a level 1 warrior, in the bird’s nest on South Beach, as the pigs have carried off all his friends and their eggs. Gradually you explore the map, which is full of locations where you can fight pigs – generally referred to as ‘dungeons’ even though they’re not underground.

During the first fights, you have only a few choices each turn – attack a pig, (by dragging your finger from Red to the pig you want to attack,) or defend (by tapping on Red.) Each pig gets their own chance every turn, either to attack you or maybe use a special power.

During the fight, a chili icon at the bottom of the screen gradually fills up with red light until it’s full to bursting, letting out steam. Then you can use the chili with Red during his turn, unleashing a super-power attack on the toughest pig left standing.

As you proceed through the map, you can rescue the other birds, who join the group with their own special skills; Chuck the yellow bird is a sorcerer, Matilda the white bird a cleric, Bomb the black bird a pirate, the three inseperable Blue birds are thieves. Once you have more than three birds in the party, you have to pick which three go into any particular fight.

There’s a lot more going on in the game; tracking resources, weapons and other gear, treasure, wave battles and so on, but I think this gives you an idea of why it’s kinduv compelling. Hopefully while the phone is charging, I can actually get some real work done this afternoon!

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Screens off before bedtime!

February 24, 2014

Okay, I hadn’t really heard about melatonin supression before yesterday. The basic idea is that blue-rich light from electronic devices like LCD screens and televisions screws up our brain chemistry if we’re exposed to it a lot late at night, and keeps people from getting a good night’s sleep.

Now, sleep is very important to me. And I’ve been noticing some problems with it lately. So I decided to give this thing a try yesterday. I didn’t muck around with apps to adjust light levels or amber goggles, just set a deadline to turn off all the LCD screen devices, and gave myself a bedtime an hour later.

It was a little odd trying to steer clear of my computers, the television, my smartphones, tablet, etcetera for that hour, but worked out pretty well. I did some cleaning and dishes in the kitchen while listening to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on an old audiobook player that doesn’t really have enough of a screen to worry about. (It does have blue backlight, actually, but I figured it wasn’t bright enough to make a difference if I wasn’t staring at the readout for the whole hour.) And I enjoyed a nice bedtime snack while listening to some music.

I felt like I got some good sleep, and I’m going to try it again tonight, so I need to wrap-up this post quickly. I think one of the benefits for me may not be about blue light, just that without all my fancy devices, I won’t be so tempted to procrastinate and stay up later than I meant to! 😉


In which my Kindle goes back to the USA for magazines

August 5, 2013

Not physically. Let’s see… I was at Williams by the Pier in Hamilton with Elizabeth Twist, catching up and doing our Evensies (even Sundays,) write-in thing, and happened to mention my frustration with Amazon.ca and magazines. Elizabeth’s immediate reaction was that I should send out angry customer support emails until they got my Kindle account switched back to amazon.com, as the best part of having the Kindle, in her experience, was for the magazines.

I don’t tend to default to ‘angry’ with my customer support emails, but I sent out a plea for help to Amazon.com right there in the cafe, and also read her the email I’d sent to Amazon.ca last week and their completely unhelpful brush-off form letter.

Somewhat to my surprise, an Amazon customer support person by the name of Naveen replied within four hours, including very helpful instructions on how to navigate the Amazon.ca website to migrate my account back to Amazon.com – thank you very much Naveen! I have brand new issues of Analog and F&SF on my Kindle, and I’ll be starting a subscription to Asimov’s as soon as they get a new issue out. (The issue that’s currently up on Amazon.com is the same one that Sheila was handing out for free back at Odyssey, so I thought I could read that in print and wait a month.)

Thank you very much for pushing me to try again Elizabeth!


Why can’t Amazon Canada sell me Kindle magazines?

August 1, 2013

So… I think it was back in March or April that I finally clicked on the prompt in Amazon Kindle management that had been nagging at me to flip my Kindle account over to Amazon Canada. I think I made the final decision because I could save a few bucks on a Jim Butcher book I wanted to buy, “Ghost Story.” There was a notification saying that I’d lose any magazine subscriptions, but I didn’t really worry about that; I’d been getting the F&SF free digest for about a year, enjoying the free short story every two months, but I was a little down on short stories just at that point anyway.

What a difference a few months make. I came back from Odyssey all fired to catch up on the major genre magazines, and was assuming that I’d be able to load up on Kindle subscriptions. Imagine my fury when I found out that not only did I lose the subscriptions I had when I flipped the account, I couldn’t resubscribe to any magazines because Amazon Canada doesn’t do magazines or periodical subscriptions! And there doesn’t appear to be any way to flip my Kindle back to an amazon.com account… at least not without a US based credit card. 😦

Now, things aren’t as bad as they might be. Of the genre magazines that amazon.com sells subscriptions to, several of them both offer their stories free online and sell their own .mobi format subscriptions. A couple, namely Asimov’s and Analog, have other options that I can read on my smartphones or a tablet, if I buy a tablet. Only The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appears to give me no options to read their stories but amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and dead trees. Sigh.

I’m left full of questions, especially about the options for Analog/Asimov’s. I’ve tried a free trial of Analog through the ‘Magzter’ iphone app, and it seems to be slightly frustrating because the page layout is fixed, so I have to zoom in on every page, then scroll down each column and then up to the top of the next column–but at least that’s doable. I haven’t been able to find those magazines in the apple Itunes newsstand, or under the Xinio iphone app. And I’m not sure if I should hold back on getting a yearly subscription for an iPhone solution if I might be getting an Android tablet soon, in which case I could go with Google Play Magazines. Then again, Magzter and Xinio probably have Android apps as well.

Anybody have words of wisdom about this stuff?


My local library and Adobe Digital Editions: a decent combination!

May 8, 2013

I’ve started to get into the habit of checking the Hamilton Public Library catalog when there’s a book I’m interested in that I don’t have a copy of, (and that isn’t in the public domain,) because it’s a good way of trimming the budget for buying books. A few weeks ago, after Storywonk announced Sophie Kinsella’s “The Undomestic Goddess” as their Book Club pick for April, I hit the online catalog and was surprised to find that it was listed as a library ebook.

Now, I’ve wanted for a while to try checking an ebook out of the library, but had never found an ebook listed that I was actually interested in. So I took a closer look. There were two ebook copies in the Hamilton system, both checked out, but no outstanding holds, so I placed a hold of my own, and the website assured me that I’d get an email notification when a copy became available.

And I didn’t hear back for a while, to the point where I was starting to get worried that I was misreading the part where the website said “Library copies: 2” and there weren’t any ebooks at all. In the meantime, Storywonk Sunday went on hiatus and postponed the Book Club discussion to May 26th. Finally, Monday morning, I woke up and found out that there was a notification in my email that it was finally ready to check out, two and a half weeks after I placed the hold. These titles can be checked out for 1 to 3 weeks, (with no early return because there’s no way to make sure that every reading device has deactivated the authorization codes,) and I think it’s a bit odd that both copies were checked out just a few days before I searched, but I’m not complaining.

So far, I’m impressed with the process of borrowing and reading an ebook. The library offered 3 different borrowing option with this title: Read the rest of this entry »


Possibly my most enthusiastic feedback ever!

March 28, 2013

It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this brilliant blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
I look forward to brand new updates and will talk about this blog with
my Facebook group. Talk soon!

Too bad it’s from an obvious spammer, sigh. 🙂

In a related off-topic rant, Gmail is pissing me off just a little. Not only do they appear to be dead-set to ram their tiny ‘New Compose Window’ down my throat, even though I really don’t like trying to organize an email in such a small space, but when I tried to send them feedback, their ‘Send Feedback’ window was so freakin’ huge that I couldn’t see or find the SEND button on my netbook. I managed to send it off by clicking on some text and then hitting the Enter key, but that’s not really a good user experience, Google guys.

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I understand that you’re excited about rolling out new toys, and that it makes support harder if the users have hundreds of different interface choices, but I like the Old Compose Window!

My ISP is doing the same thing with their webmail – they got rid of the nice, simple, quick, easy to use mail interface and replaced it with some complex monstrosity that’s trying too hard to look like Outlook and requires Java. Sigh. At least I can simply access my ISP email through my iPhone.


New tech and building magic.

March 16, 2013

Well, I didn’t get as much done on editing as I’d hoped today, because a few other things ate up a lot of my time. First – new computer!

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Read the rest of this entry »


Ebooks: Abandoned providers, DRM and fair use

February 21, 2013

It’s been a few weeks now since the Fictionwise and Ereader.com websites have been mothballed by Barnes & Noble, but I’ve been doing some ebook stuff recently and tried to access both of them without thinking. I remember getting warning emails back in November – US and UK customers were apparently offered the chance to roll their bookshelves over to the Barnes & Noble website, but for the rest of us, it was basically “Make sure you’ve downloaded backups of all your books, and have a nice life.”

It’s certainly not a great digital tragedy, but I’m disappointed to see those ebook providers disappear. Ereader.com used to be ‘Peanut press palm reader’, which was my intro into the world of electronic books, and they had a great, smart format that was supported by a wide range of devices. Fictionwise didn’t have a great selection of novels to my taste, but I was able to pick up some great short stories there, (as well as some interesting audio adaptations,) and I loved their ‘multi-format DRM free’ program, where you could download the story you purchased in any of 13 different popular formats, all of them without any copy protection mechanisms.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve downloaded copies in every format that I might have a use for, so the biggest immediate impact is that I can’t use the ereader.com online bookshelf to access my books from my iPhone or android phone. With the iPhone, this is just an annoyance, because I can put up my book files on another website and access them that way. But the Ereader.com app for Android is just about useless now; the ereader.com website was the only way to load books onto it, and I’d only loaded on one book so far.

But I’ve figured out another way to get those books onto my phone.

I don’t really have strong feelings one way or another on DRM; I don’t think of it as an offense against human rights the way a few people seem to, and I don’t hesitate to spend my money on DRM content; depending on my impression of the DRM system and how likely it seems that I’ll lose access to the file entirely, of course. On the other hand, I don’t really scruple about hedging my bets and using software tools to crack DRM protection when it seems to be in my best interests.

Read the rest of this entry »


More about the Monastery playlist

January 29, 2013

I’ve mentioned the ‘Monastery playlist’ a few times on this blog before, but since Nanopals has a post up today talking about the writing process and mentioning music, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail about the music of the monastery, how I found it, and what part it plays in my writing.

First off, generally I love writing to music. Finding a great song to write to is a gift, but if I like a song, generally it’s seldom ‘bad’ music to write to, especially during Nano or when I’m otherwise pantsing my way recklessly through a first draft. Editing is a bit different, it needs a bit more concentration, and for a while that was something that wasn’t quite falling into place with my writing process; editing in silence was too quiet, (unless I was reading my own work aloud as part of the editing process,) but most music was too distracting.

When I was going through the Holly Lisle ‘How to Revise Your Novel’ course last March, I got to the Monastery exercise where you leave a lot of the everyday world behind, and your last draft of your novel and your notes, and just sort of meditate your way to the perfect revision outline for the book. 😉 It’s a really great process, and one of the things Holly prescribed to leave behind was listening to music… with lyrics. She also seemed to be biased against a variety of instrumental music, and suggested leaving Classical Gas on an endless loop if you wanted any music in the monastery, but I couldn’t face any one tune that much, so I started putting together a list of all the instrumental music that I love. That was the moment my Monastery playlist was born.

The playlist was a great comfort to be on that first trip through the Monastery, both while I was actually working on my outline and as I walked the streets of my neighborhood trying to figure out what I wanted my book to be. I brought it back when I started Block Revision on “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children”, and gradually I’ve started to rely on it more and more whenever I have revision or editing to do. This particular collection of music just seems to be a really good fit with that task.

Some of the highlights of the playlist:

  • Mozart Concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra
  • The Firefly soundtrack and Serenity score
  • The Simpsons movie soundtrack
  • Any piano solo by John Sheard
  • Natalie McMaster on the fiddle
  • Selections from the ‘Pickin’ on’ Bluegrass series
  • “The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe.” (I think the Serenians of Zeta Cygnus deserved to make the cut, but anyway… 😀 )
  • Bach Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
  • A few orchestral versions of Madonna and REM songs

And on and on – there’s quite a bit of Leahy, some Rankin family, and a bunch of random instrumental tracks that just happened to turn up on albums that were otherwise conventional pop vocals.

I’ve become such a fan of my Monastery playlist that I even have versions of it on a couple of different devices to make sure that I can get at it when I need to. It started out on the iPhone, and is still there. Was on the desktop tower for a while, to sync with the iPhone, but the tower is with us no more. Sometime in the fall, I started copying the monastery music to an SD card that I could play in my Palm TX PDA, and then in December I loaded it onto my 1 gigabyte Sandisk Sansa player. (Well, as much of it as could fit. The entire playlist is around 1.2 gigs now.) And I’ve got it on the red netbook now too, in iTunes so that I can sync changes to the iPhone still.

Do you have any particular music that you like for a project or a specific stage of your writing?


The spirits of computer failure target me again.

January 19, 2013

Once again, I’m having computer issues. This time, it’s with my beloved eeePC, which I may have used the most for writing and editing in the most unlikely places over the past four years or so.

Everything seemed to be fine Thursday midday. I’d taken it to work with me, and not actually used it on the bus because I’d been procrastinating for a week and a half on reading the other entries to the latest SDMB short fiction contest. So I quickly transferred those stories to the Kindle before I left home and read like crazy all the way to Burlington.

The eeePC battery tends to drain itself fairly quickly even when the netbook isn’t turned on, and it doesn’t actually realize that it needs to recharge until you turn it on. So I quickly powered it up on my lunch break, then plugged it in later that afternoon so the battery would top up. I remember that the desktop came up as usual.

After walking to the bus stop Thursday evening, I powered up the eeePC – and things were going wrong. It was prompting me for a password, which it usually doesn’t do on boot, and when I typed in the usual admin password, it just kept returning me to the same prompt without any message of what was going on:

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I didn’t take these photos on the bus, but it wasn’t hard to recreate the same prompts at home. But back to the bus for now – I was quickly getting critical low battery messages as well, which was a bit unusual, so I packed up the netbook, hoping it was just a weird reaction to booting on a low battery. Maybe if it booted up fine plugged into AC power, I would order a replacement battery. Pulled out the Kindle again and read some of “Maybe Baby” and watched part of an ‘8 Simple Rules’ episode with John Ritter, on the iPhone.

But things didn’t work out any better once I got the netbook home. Same login prompts when I tried to boot from the solid-state drive. Yesterday morning, I made up a liveUSB stick with Xubuntu 10.10 on it – several versions back, but one version ahead of what was on the netbook, and it was handy. It took a while to re-enable the right BIOS option to book from a USB hard-disk device, and that seemed to go promising to start with.

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The splash screen for Xubuntu took a long time when it was running off the flash drive, over half an hour:

 

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But eventually, disaster struck:

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The error message I was getting was something like “udevd[166]: timeout killing /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ [378]”. After a while, I also got some “udevd[166]: /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ terminated by signal 9 (killed)”

So, it kinda looks to me like the eeePC is toast. There’s one option on the liveUSB that I haven’t tried yet – to reformat the SSD and reinstall Xubuntu onto it. But if I can’t even run Xubuntu off the liveUSB, I have very little hope that a reinstall will even finish, let alone work the way I want it to.

Any geeks out there have a better prognosis or suggestion for me? I know that all electronics do have an expected lifespan, and the eeePC has given me much over the years. But I’ll be sad to see it go this way.


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