Another Computer Adventure

Last night when I went to bed, a few minutes before midnight, all was normal on my computer. The background was a lovely beach scene. My email was open and ready to handle all those important communications that come in overnight (mostly ads). All was well with the world.

This morning I got up with plans to accomplish all sorts of things. I only go to work on Tuesdays through Thursdays, so I have four days for reading, writing, shopping, whatever. High on the list for this weekend is judging three long entries for a writing contest and emailing them back to the coordinator (in Australia!) by Monday night. I was halfway through a printed copy of the first one, but the other two were waiting on my computer.

I was not entirely surprised to see a black screen on my computer monitor when I rounded the corner from the kitchen this morning. Happens sometimes, when the monitor goes to sleep. But this time no amount of hitting Enter or jiggling the mouse restored the screen. Nothing there but the cursor.

So I turned the computer off. Had to do it with the on/off button, since I couldn’t see anything on the monitor. When I turned it back on, I saw the Hewlett Packard welcome screen, so I knew my lovely big HD monitor hadn’t died (actually, the cursor proved that). But that’s all I saw, and then it disappeared, leaving me with the black screen again.

So I hit the button again and tried starting the computer in Safe Mode, not entirely sure what to do when I got there. That gave me reassurance that the monitor was working properly, but it didn’t get me into Windows. I tried running the memory check. Took forever, and found no problems.

So the next time I restarted the computer I hit the system recovery key, which took me to a section of the HP help software I’d never visited before. From there I could try System Restore, which also told me that there had been an update from Microsoft during the night. Apparently that update didn’t work, and as far as I can tell, the non-working update was the source of all my problems.

Alas, System Restore didn’t help, either. I tried that twice, using the two latest restore points. Back to the Help Screen. System Recovery was definitely a last resort, since it would wipe out my files and any programs installed since the original set up. The computer is almost five years old. Although I recently ran a USB drive back up of my documents, and I have an external hard drive back up system in place (although I’ve never had cause to restore anything from it), restoring the whole system would be one heck of a job.

Start Up Repair looked promising, so I tried that next. By this time I was looking up computer repair services in my local phone book (see, phone books still have their uses!). By the time Start Up Repair had run twice without success, I had called one of the numbers and gotten a promise of a call back when the phone person found a technician available. I set Start Up Repair running again and retired to the couch with the morning newspaper (which I much prefer to the on line version).

When the phone rang a few minutes later, it was a political call, from a real live person, and I’m afraid she got a rather short-tempered response from me (even though she was with the party I plan to vote for). The Start Up Repair program continued to run, the little green bar going back and forth, restarting the computer once or twice, while I worried about all the things that might not be on my recent back up. How long would it take to reconstruct all the information in my password logger? At least my email, including those unjudged contest entries, was in the cloud. If I had to, I could go into work (thirty miles away) and use the computer there.

By the time an hour and a half had gone by, I was back at the phone books. The Start Up Repair program was still running, and I was seriously considering hitting cancel, thinking it was caught in some sort of circular trap, when suddenly I heard the familiar sound of Windows starting up. My beach scene was back. My calendar program appeared. I called the computer service to cancel.

I still haven’t had breakfast, but I’ve printed out those two contest entries trapped in my computer. I’ve made back ups (both digital and printed) of my password program. I’ve run yet another USB drive back up. The attempts at System Restore said no changes had been made, but I had to reinstall Adobe Reader and the icon for Word has mysteriously changed. But my current work in Scrivener is intact and nothing else seems to have been affected.

I have not rebooted the computer or attempted to reinstall those pesky Microsoft updates. I’m not going to do either one until I’m forced to. I’m just glad to have my digital life back.

And I’m wondering if it’s time to get a wireless router and a back up laptop.


Routing the Cat

I went a few rounds with my work computer this morning, and in the end came up with a remarkably low tech solution (and without the help of the fellow with the thick foreign accent who called out of the blue claiming to be from the “Windows support service”—I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out how he thought he was going to fix a problem that we didn’t have).

The problem we did have seemed to involve QuickBooks, the bookkeeping software we use for almost all our clients. I’d been having occasional problems with QB locking up or otherwise misbehaving lately, but I just blamed it on the ever-increasing size and complexity of the software. This morning I had entered several long, complicated deposits when the software began locking up on me and then, after I closed the program and/or rebooted the computer, coming up with one excuse after another to keep me out of the client file. QB couldn’t find the file, or I didn’t have permission to use the file, or there wasn’t enough space to record the transaction. Or there was just plain no connection to the office WiFi network and the client files stored on another computer.

After numerous rounds of frustration (and after losing the long, complicated deposit twice), I realized that all the trouble might be related to the network connection. So I went into Jo Anne’s office to see if she was having problems. She was working on the cloud-based version of QB. She hates the cloud-based version, but it was working.

Kiko playing paperweight

Kiko playing paperweight

When I looked around the office to the network connections a few feet from Jo Anne’s computer, I saw Kiko the bad-tempered calico, one of our three Scorekeeper office cats, sitting on the wireless router. She loves the tangle of cords and cables under that table, and Jo Anne and I don’t understand the mess well enough to move the router and the print server to a less feline-accessible location (assuming, of course, that such a place exists). Kiko has been suspected of disconnecting my computer from the print server by sitting on that, so I shooed her off the router, set it upright, and went back to my desk, perhaps thirty feet away. The bars on my network icon had jumped from two to four.

I tried moving the router to the top of a nearby storage carton, but Kiko sat there staring at it, clearly plotting to drag it back down as soon as I turned my back. “Put a box over it,” Jo Anne suggested.

That required laying the router back down on its side on the floor—it may be a “wireless” router, but it’s connected to the rest of the tangle by at least two cables—and covering it with a smallish cardboard carton.

I had no more connection trouble for the rest of the day.

We have no idea what draws Kiko to the router and the print server—warmth? vibrations? secret electronic messages from feline aliens headed this way in spaceships resembling empty grocery bags?—but when I left work this evening, she was sitting on the box over the router. I have a feeling my low tech solution may not be permanent.

Romance in the Old West

Between Heaven & HellHannah, the heroine of Jacqui Nelson’s Between Heaven & Hell, can’t remember her last name. When she was a child she watched from beneath a bramble bush as her parents were killed and her home burned to the ground by rogue militiamen. Rescued by a band of Osage Indians who call her Blue Sky, Hannah finds herself a decade later on the run from Eagle Feather, the warrior she once called brother. Desperate to travel west, she applies for a scout position with a wagon train about to leave Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for far-off California.

Paden Callahan, a former Texas Ranger who lost his wife to a Comanche raid, has taken on the job of wagon master as a favor to his father-in-law, General Sherwood. He’d much rather be back at his new home in Oregon, building his lumber business. Hiring a female scout may be unthinkable (after all, it’s 1850), but keeping the man she would replace, a drunken boor named Dawson, is an even worse prospect.

Paden’s caution is not unjustified. With both Eagle Feather and Dawson seeking vengeance against Hannah, she may be a danger to the wagon train. But Paden is harboring secrets of his own, and an enemy from his past is waiting at Fort Laramie.

Nelson paints a believable and moving picture of the hardships of the mid-nineteenth century, as settlers leave precious possessions behind to lighten their wagons and bury lost loved ones along the side of the trail. While Hannah and Paden do their best for the wagon train, they are drawn to each other and begin to imagine a future together. But with so many forces working to keep them apart, can they make that dream a reality?Between Love & Lies

Jacqui Nelson is also the author of the novella Adella’s Enemy, in the Romance and Rails anthology Passion’s Prize, and the forthcoming Between Love & Lies, set in Dodge City.

Kate Parker: The Counterfeit Lady

The Counterfeit LadyThe Counterfeit Lady is the second in Kate Parker’s delightful Victorian Bookshop Mystery series, in which Georgia Fenchurch, the solidly middle-class proprietress of Fenchurch’s Books, once again becomes involved in murder and mayhem through her somewhat prickly friendship with the dashing Duke of Blackford and her participation in the Archivist Society, a secretive investigation agency.

This time around, a cousin of Georgia’s friend and house mate, Lady Phyllida Monthalf, is murdered, and Phyllida refuses to believe that her cousin’s husband, arrested for the crime, is guilty. As if this weren’t distressing enough, the murder was committed during the theft of the blueprints of a new battleship—designed by the accused husband. Is he a murderer? A traitor? Or an innocent man, as Phyllida believes?

The political repercussions of the theft bring the Duke into the picture, and Georgia unwillingly agrees to his plan to investigate the crime—by posing as a prosperous widow recently returned from Singapore, an old flame of Blackford’s ready to renew their relationship.

Between worrying about leaving her shop in the hands of friends, avoiding anyone who might know her as Georgia or who might be expected to know a widow from Singapore, dealing with an impostor, going off to a country house party, and struggling with her real feelings for the Duke, Georgia is out of her element. But if anyone can cope with the unexpected, it’s Georgia, whether it involves international spies, a stolen hat box, or dealing with snobbish aristocrats.

I love the setting of this series, late Victorian London, where electric lighting is coming into vogue and the Duke has a telephone installed in the shop (with no delay—he’s a director of the telephone company). The viewpoint of a middle class spinster focused on making a living, sure that nothing will ever come of her attraction to a Duke, is refreshing, and the cast of supporting characters is entertaining. I’ll be looking forward to Georgia’s next adventure in investigation—and her next encounter with the Duke.

Return of the Hurricane Lilies

When I mowed the front lawn a couple of weeks ago, I kept watch for hurricane lily stalks and didn’t spot a single one. The lilies are usually in full bloom by mid-September, but by September 15 this year not a single stalk had shown itself. I hoped our very dry summer hadn’t done them in, but since the original bulbs were planted before I moved into this house in 1976, they are clearly tough.

Last Friday my vigil was rewarded with the first few stalks, and by this morning the lilies were up in force, a few of them even beginning to bloom. Perhaps they were inspired by the generous rain we finally got last week.  They may be a week or ten days later than usual this year, but the lilies are always a welcome sign that the end of the long hot Texas summer is in sight. So this morning I gave my front lawn a poodle cut, being sure not to disturb any of the lily stalks.  Hopefully the lawn mowing season will be over in another few weeks, too

Here is the broadest cluster of stalks, just getting ready to pop.

Lilies 092214

And here are two of the first blooms.

Lilies 092214 open

Welcome back, Fall.

Bolly-Punk: The Dharian Affairs

After I read (or perhaps misread) a review of Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter which used the intriguing descriptive “Bolly-punk,” I bought the book expecting a romance set in an alternate Victorian India. It didn’t take Third Daughterme long, however, to realize that Dharia was not an alternate India, but an alternate world. The twin full moons on the second page were my first clue.

Mind you, I was delighted by the discovery that Third Daughter is in fact a science fiction novel (with a solid helping of romance that does not go beyond kisses), and a perfectly wonderful example of world building (there’s a map of Dharia and its neighbors on Quinn’s website). And then there were the pack animals that sounded rather like elephants—with six legs. And the matriarchal society, in which Dharia is always referred to as the Queendom.

The heroine, Aniri, is the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia, a few days away from her eighteenth birthday. Her sisters, the First and Second Daughters, have done their duty and married appropriately, freeing Aniri to follow her heart. That is, until the Queen asks her to consider a marriage, or at least an engagement, of convenience to Prince Ashora Malik, the heir to the barbarous northern country of Jungali, taking her on a mission to discover the truth behind rumors of a flying machine/weapon that might threaten the political status quo.

That’s right, a flying machine. Plus sword fighting automatons, long distance communicators, steam trains and ladies in corsets, tiny mechanisms, sabers, all sorts of steampunk technology. Aniri is a tough, self-reliant heroine. Ash and Jungali are not quite what Aniri has been led to expect, and old family secrets rise to the surface as she searches for the truth behind the rumors. And, by then end of the book, Aniri and Ash have discovered one more secret than they expected. The last line of the novel is a doozy!

Second DaughterI enjoyed Third Daughter immensely, and downloaded Second Daughter when it was released. I just pre-ordered First Daughter, which is scheduled to release on September 29.  More reviews to come.

Writing Faster

A couple of weeks ago when I posted my lament about not finishing my work in progress any time soon at the rate of one hundred (or even three hundred) words a day, several friends recommended that I download an ebook by Rachel Aaron called 2,000 to 10,000. As it happened, I found the book waiting on my own Kindle, where it had been sitting unread for over a year. I have a lot of books on my Kindle.

2K to 10KAaron includes a number of excellent suggestions in her short (65 pages or so) book (long essay?) based on blog posts and articles. Quite a bit of what she says rings bells for me, but perhaps the most important was If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. When she sits down to write, she spends at least the first five minutes planning what she’s going to write that day, sketching it out on paper or computer, phrases, lists, bits of dialog, whatever helps her formulate the day’s writing in her mind.

I, on the other hand, usually sit at my computer and squeeze out one sentence at a time. My road map of late has been very limited, and I’ve been leaning too heavily on the one hundred words a day mantra. Clearly I need headlights with a longer reach if I’m going to stay on the road. So I thought I would adopt Aaron’s practice and see if it helps.

I think it will, but what really helped this month—and numerous times in the past—was a deadline.

A contest I did not enter because I did not have a synopsis at the end of August extended its deadline to September 15. I had used the same contest back in 2011 to kick myself into plotting the second half of Bathtub Jinn and writing a synopsis. The manuscript was not only a finalist in that contest, but the plotting and synopsis enabled me to finish the book in time (barely) for the Golden Heart deadline, and it was a finalist there, too.

So I adopted the contest deadline to plot the second half of the story I’m working on, and it worked. I wrote the synopsis yesterday and sent the entry off this morning. Whether or not the manuscript makes the cut in this contest, I now have a seven-page road map for the rest of the story, and whatever publishing path I decide to follow, I should have this tale finished by the end of the year. Three months or so doesn’t seem unreasonable now that I know where the story is going. I hate to say how long it has taken me to write the first half—I’m not sure I even know.

I still don’t think I could sit down and plot an entire book before I write it. It takes me quite a bit of writing to discover my characters and see where they want to go. Maybe that will come some day. Right now I’m balancing somewhere around the middle of the panster/plotter continuum. If I’m ever going to write more than one book a year, I may have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, further toward the plotter end of the scale.

The subtitle of 2,000 to 10,000 is How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. Sounds good to me, especially the “what you love” part. If you’ve really having trouble writing, Aaron suggests, you may be writing the wrong story.

Previous Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 511 other followers