Keeping Up To Date

The other night I received an email from a reader (hurray for readers!) of my blog, letting me know that one of the links in my article Software for Writers led him to a Japanese porn site. He was interested in the software, so he’d found (and sent me) an active link leading to an innocent software site (if a bit old, referencing Windows XP as the program’s operating system).

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So I clicked on the link in my article and—oh, my goodness! That link did not go there when I set it up several years ago, and I apologize to anyone else who accidentally ended up there. My guess is that someone let their domain name expire and had to set up a new one. Apparently the vacated domain appealed to someone in Japan with an interest in things other than writers’ software.

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I wrote and posted that article nearly six years ago, so after I replaced the bad link with the correct one (Thanks again, Stephen!), I checked all the links, and was pleasantly surprised to see that all the programs I mentioned still have active web sites. I’m no longer using any of them, having switched almost all of my writing to Scrivener in the intervening years (see Introduction to Scrivener for Novelists), but we all process our writing differently, so another program (or combination of programs) may be just what you’re looking for.

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On the theme of keeping up to date, I read and replied to that email on my newest toy, an Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet. I knew I wouldn’t resist long after I had WiFi set up in the house. I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for years, but as much as I buy from the Zon, the free shipping doesn’t add up to the annual fee. So I thought I’d buy an Amazon tablet to use for music and videos. And, of course, because I wanted a new toy. The Fire is inexpensive (less than I paid for my Kindle Voyage) and simple to use. The Quick Start Guide is the size of a business card, mainly showing the location of the on/off button. I plugged mine into the charger and it sprang to life, walking me through the rest of the set up.

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I have barely scratched the surface of the App Store, but I have both my email accounts set up (and setting up my little-used gmail account brought my phone calendar over), along with Goodreads and Facebook. I promptly made the time-sink error of downloading three games (there are thousands available): Solitaire, Sudoku, and Flow Free, a totally addictive logic game.

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The Fire came with a six-month subscription to the Washington Post—that might not be to everyone’s taste, but I’m enjoying it, and I expect I’ll renew when it runs out in September.

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Of course the Fire comes with the Kindle app already installed (along with Amazon Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Shopping, and Alexa), and the e-reader function is very nice, including something called “blue shade,” which you can turn on to cut out the blue light that keeps some people (and I seem to be one of them) from sleeping after reading on a screen at bedtime. One of the joys of having my Kindle Voyage, my phone, and the Fire all on WiFi is the automatic sync—if I forget my Voyage, I can pick up where I left off in a book on my phone. And if I want to read in bed on the Fire, it takes me right to the page where I stopped on the Voyage.

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The Fire only connects to the Internet via WiFi, but once you’ve downloaded a book, a game, or even a video, you don’t need the connection.

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Any day now, I’ll actually sit down and start watching The Man in the High Castle. Maybe that could get me back on the exercise bike I’ve been neglecting.

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Lest you think I have been totally absorbed by the Cloud—I still do the crossword, the jumble, the cryptogram and the sudoku in the Houston Chronicle every evening (I actually read the paper in the morning), and I continue to add to my collection of paper books To Be Read (I have five on pre-order from Amazon even as I type, and there may have been recent trips to bookstores).

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There are not enough hours in the day.

Kindle and book

My New Toy: the Kindle Voyage

When I realized I’d read more titles on my Kindle than on paper in 2015, I decided it really was time to upgrade from the keyboard Kindle I bought in March of 2011. In the world of electronics, that’s practically an antique (begging pardon of my beloved computer, which is even older). I’d been dithering about the splurge for a number of reasons: my old Kindle worked fine, most of the time; there didn’t seem to be any easy way to transfer the contents of one Kindle to another; and the Voyage is pretty expensive.

And I dithered between the Voyage and the Kindle Paperwhite, which has pretty much the same software and, in the newest generation, the same resolution (300 ppi, as compared to 167 ppi for my old Kindle). When my friend Jo Anne recently upgraded, she chose the Paperwhite, and it is a beautiful ereader.

I read all the reviews and comparisons, and four features of the Voyage called to me: the flat glass surface, the self-adjusting lighting, the multiple page-turning methods, and the “origami” case Amazon sells for it. So I splurged, ordered a Voyage and a leather case, and hoped it would be all I wanted.

It is. I love it. I’ve had the Voyage for about ten days now, and if I thought my first Kindle was magic five years ago, this one has it beat all over.

It has taken some getting used to. It took me a couple of days to learn to “tap” when turning pages or using the menus. You can also turn pages by swiping (one direction forward, the other back) or by pressing the bezel (as for the “haptic feedback” connected with the bezel-pressing method, I can’t feel it through the case; without the case there is a faint “clunk” somewhere in the back of the Kindle. Pointless, in my opinion, but I suppose some people like it). The menus are a bit different from those on my old Kindle, and I made good use of the User Guide. The Internet connection (WiFi or 3G) seems to be on by default—to turn it off (and save the battery) you must go into the menu system and turn on “airplane mode.”

VoyageThe Voyage in its case is much smaller and easier to hold than my old Kindle in its much larger lighted case. The Voyage is made of magnesium and glass, not plastic, and its case is magnetic. The folded easel configuration is exactly what I’d hoped for, allowing comfortable hands free reading. The Voyage turns on when you open the case and off when you close it.

The resolution and contrast make the text extremely sharp, and I read comfortably at a smaller type size (there are six fonts to choose from, the default being Bookerly, developed for the newer Kindles) than I could on my old one. The difference between the paper white Voyage and the grayish/greenish keyboard Kindle (what color is that, anyway?) is stunning. The screen is indeed flat—no annoying bezel edges to catch those tiny bits of hair when I read under the dryer when I have my hair cut.

The software allows several choices for display at the bottom of the screen. The percentage remains in the bottom right corner, but the Reading Progress menu allows you to choose Page Number (if available), Time left in Chapter, Time Left in Book, Location, or nothing at all to display in the bottom left corner. (I never did see much use for Location as a reader, although it is useful for reporting typos and such to friends who actually want that sort of feedback.) And there’s the Page Flip function, and About the Book, and several other goodies that don’t exist on my old Kindle. Probably some I haven’t even found yet.

As for the 350 or so items sitting in my Amazon cloud, I’m just leaving most of them there, at least for the time being. I’ve set up a few collections on my Voyage (the touch screen keypad is so much easier to use than the mechanical keyboard on my old Kindle), downloaded two or three books into each one to get started, and established the Voyage as my default device so new purchases will go to it. I can identify every title I’ve bought on the Kindle app on my computer and then find it in the cloud. Some I’ve read, some I downloaded, early on, because they were free and will never remember to read, and some I’ll just download when I’m ready for them.

And by the way, if you already have a Kindle wall charger (from when they came with the Kindle, as I think they should), you don’t need to put out twenty bucks for a new one. The old one will work just fine.

Happy New Year! And, Of Course, Books

Welcome to 2016. My resolutions are always pretty much the same. Write more. Publish something. Declutter the house. Lose a few pounds. Read more.

I actually did pretty well on that last one in 2015. I had read 48 books in 2014, and joined Goodreads. So when Goodreads put up the reading challenge, I aimed for 50 books in 2015. I actually finished 72.

Now, admittedly, some of those books were fairly short. Epublishing has opened the field for novellas and short novels; books no longer have to reach a certain length to be financially viable if they don’t have to live on paper. Even so, Goodreads tells me that I read 20,131 pages last year (up from 13,641 in 2014).

I depend on Goodreads for page totals, and who knows how accurate they are on ebooks? But I do keep my own list of the books I read, and I can report that in 2015 I read nineteen romances, twenty-six mysteries, seven science fiction/fantasy novels, five general fiction, and fifteen nonfiction books, eleven of those related to writing or DIY publishing. This year I read 38 books on my Kindle, slightly more than half, up from my previous average (since I bought my Kindle in 2011) of about one third ebooks. (Maybe that would justify replacing my near-antique keyboard Kindle with a nice new paperwhite model.)

I must have been lucky or cautious in my choice of reading material: Goodreads tells me that my average rating was 4.4 stars, and I do try to rate and review what I read. I also know what goes into writing a novel, so perhaps I’m inclined to be generous.

I have not done a lot of writing this year. WordPress tells me I only published 38 blogs, less than one a week, in 2015. I’ll try to do more of that in 2016, keeping up my essay writing skills. I still have quite a few of those 72 books to tell you about, so I’ll start on those next week.

I did finish writing the third novel in my Jinn series, Jinn on the Rocks, but now I need to do considerable editing on the three Jinn books before I can seriously approach publishing them—when I wrote the first one, Jinn & Tonic, I had no idea I was starting a series, and the world of Pandemonia has expnded quite a bit. I’ve been reading and researching the self-publishing process, and it does sound like such a lot of work. Marketing doesn’t appeal to me at all. So I’ve been dragging my feet.

I think this year I’ll aim for reading 60 books—five a month, I can do that. And I’ll start the decluttering with the old office. And stick with the exercise bike. And start a new manuscript.

Happy New Year, and I wish you the best of luck with whatever you hope to accomplish in 2016.

Books, Books and More Books

Cheryl Bolen’s Egyptian Affair

An Egyptian Affair is the fourth installment in Cheryl Bolen’s light-hearted Regent Mystery series, continuing the adventures of Captain Jack Dryden, former spy for the Duke of Wellington, and his wife and investigating partner, Lady Daphne.

An Egyptian AffairThe Prince Regent has turned over a substantial sum of money to a trusted Indian dealer in antiquities, Prince Edward Duleep Singh, for the purchase of a golden mask of the mummy of the pharaoh Amun-re. Now the dealer, the money, and the mask have all gone missing in Egypt, and the Regent wants Jack and Daphne to track them down.

Jack is more than ready for the job, but he thinks it may be too dangerous for Daphne (not to mention her propensity for sea-sickness). Daphne, however, is not about to be left at home, and the Regent agrees. Jack can hardly refuse when the Regent announces he will send ten of his own House Guards as security, and Stanton Maxwell, a young but renowned Orientologist, as guide and interpreter.

With Daphne’s youngest sister, Rosemary, along for the voyage, the party arrives in Egypt, where they are welcomed by Ralph Arbuthnot of the British Consulate in Cairo. Their trip down the Nile, complete with naked farm workers on shore, serves to convince the British travelers that they’re definitely not in London any more.

Cairo swarms with suspicious characters. Habeeb, the local dragoman hired for them by Arbuthnot, disappears from time to time. Gareth Williams, a deserter from Jack’s company at the Battle of Badajoz, pops up when least expected. What does the Turkish Pasha who rules the country know about the missing antiquities dealer? Is Ahmed Hassein, a rival antiquities dealer, not quite the “friendly competitor” he claims to be? And what about rival antiquities collector Sheik al Mustafa? Or Lord Beddington, the British explorer whose location is so hard to pin down?

Before long Jack and Daphne have discovered a murder, and things only become more complicated when Rosemary disappears from her tent during a visit to the pyramids.

Jack and Daphne take the reader on a tour of early nineteenth century Egypt while searching for answers to their many questions. An Egyptian Affair combines exotic locations, mysterious disappearances, and a bit of romance into a very entertaining story.

Catch up with the Regent Mystery series: With His Lady’s Assistance, A Most Discreet Inquiry, and The Theft Before Christmas, available separately or as a boxed set for your favorite e-reader.

Reading in the Dark

This past weekend we had a Rain Event in the Houston area. Around here a Rain Event covers a lot of meteorological territory. Last Memorial Day an unexpected storm flooded roads and underpasses and a great many homes, stranding people in cars and houses. Now and then an expected storm doesn’t materialize at all, to the suspected disappointment of the local weather reporters.

This weekend we waited for torrential rains resulting from Hurricane Patricia, but thanks to the Mexican mountains that shredded Patricia on her eastward journey from the Pacific to the Gulf, our Rain Event did not live up to predictions.

There were high water spots scattered around the area, but most people know where to watch for them. No houses flooded, and no one was hurt

Some places got as much as nine or ten inches of rain; my backyard picked up five inches, much needed. By Monday morning the standing water in my yard was gone.

But Sunday morning the wind picked up, and about 10:20 my power went off. And stayed off, unlike the occasional five-second glitches that knock my computer and cable box off.

Understandable, with all the bad weather. I called in the outage (although my smart meter is supposed to report such things) and found a window where the light was just about good enough to finish some paperwork I had started. Then I switched to reading on my near-antique Kindle—no back lighting, but there’s a small light built into the case.

By noon I was getting a bit impatient. I know, this was a first world problem. It wasn’t even warm enough for the lack of air conditioning to be noticeable.

But the voice mail system at CenterPoint Energy had already called once to say the problem was fixed (it clearly wasn’t), and again to change the predicted time from 12:15 to 1:30, and then to 2:45.

So I went out to lunch and did a little grocery shopping. When I got home about 2:15, I was not surprised to find the house dark.

I was surprised to find a voice mail message saying that I should have electricity. So I called in the outage again, went through the whole recording, including the bit when the cheerful recorded voice suggests checking your circuit breakers (mine are old, but they don’t pop by themselves) and the end when she wishes you a great day. Hello? I just called to say nothing in my house works. I’m not having a great day.

KindleI finished the book I was reading on my Kindle, so I picked up the hardback I’ve been reading and began looking for a book light—you know, those little gadgets that clip onto a book cover and purport to light the pages. I could have sworn I had half a dozen of them, but I could only find one. Made do, near a window, with a battery lantern nearby.

2:45 came and went, as did 4:30, and 6:15. After that it was “we are assessing the outage,” and my eyes were tired from a day of reading (Good) in bad light (Not Good).

So around 7 I gave up, fed the cat (who seemed surprisingly disturbed by the whole situation), and set out to find a dinner that I could see and didn’t have to cook.

Down the street I spotted a gaggle of service trucks (do three or four qualify as a gaggle?). I parked my car on the side street and walked around two of them—both empty. So I drove around the block, and by the time I got back to the trucks, I saw lights where there had been none a few moments earlier.

So I headed back to the house, where I found all the lights on. 7:20 PM, only nine hours after they went off.

Oh, joy, everything was back to normal. I took a shower (my hot water supply does not require electricity, but the light in the shower does), microwaved my dinner, and settled down to watch a movie.

And at 8:45 the power went off again. This time it wasn’t the whole neighborhood, though. The power circuits around here probably look like a nest of snakes on whatever chart exists. My neighbor’s lights stayed on, as did the street lights. Great, an even smaller outage. How long would this one take to fix?

Called CenterPoint again—at least the obnoxiously cheerful voice admitted there was an outage, and didn’t tell me to check my circuit breaker. I think she did tell me to have a great evening, but by then I was too frustrated to care.

Fortunately that outage only lasted one hour, and the house was back to normal by 10 PM.

This evening I’m watching Castle. The ice maker in the refrigerator just refilled with water. My computer is on, and the email bell rings from time to time. I’m typing this on my (battery powered but unlit) AlphaSmart with a 200-watt table lamp next to me. I made dinner in the microwave. I have a candle burning, but only for the scent.

I do love electricity. It’s too easy to take it for granted.

Kindle and book

My thanks to theawkwardyeti.com for one of my favorite cartoons!

Of AlphaSmarts and Changing Technology

Not long ago, writers on one of the loops I follow were talking about AlphaSmarts (and the Neos and Danas that came after them), self-contained, battery-powered keyboards developed for school children but widely adopted by writers.

AlphaSmarts, Neos, and Danas are no longer manufactured, but quite a few writers still use these distraction-free keyboards, which don’t play games or connect with the Internet. I bought mine fourteen or fifteen years ago and used it quite a bit for several years, but it’s been sitting on a bookshelf for a long time. The mention of things like corroding batteries (the Alphie operates on three ordinary AAs) made me think I should check on mine.

AlphaSmartWhen I hit the on/off button, nothing happened, so I turned it over and began pulling out old, slightly-sticky batteries. It took a screwdriver to pry the first one out, and I had to remove the entire back of the keyboard to retrieve the third one. My expectations weren’t high, but I blew the dust and battery crud out of the channel, put in three new batteries, and replaced the back of the keyboard.

When I turned it over and hit the on/off button, it not only came on, but it remembered the eight files I last wrote on it (clearly there’s a lithium battery in there somewhere). I found book reviews, newsletter articles, and the minutes of a couple of RWA chapter meetings, dated 2008.

I don’t think I’ll start using the Alphie for novel writing, but I’m typing on it now, and I may decide it’s still handy for writing short articles while sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Of course I have yet to see how well it transfers text (by USB cable) to Scrivener. I don’t think I’ve ever used the Alphie with my current computer. (Note: When I plugged the Alphie into a USB port, it took my computer a few minutes to find a suitable device driver, but once it did, the file transferred perfectly, typos and all.)

The rapid changes in everyday technology continue to amaze me. Not so many years ago, a few of my more affluent writer friends were showing off their new “thumb drives,” precious (and very expensive) gizmos that could store 128 megabytes of data. At the time that was enough space for several novel manuscripts (software was a lot simpler back in the day). Now I have flash drives all over the place, from very old and very small to ever newer and bigger, but never big enough, as my Document directory grows ever larger. The other day at Office Depot, I picked up a set of two 16 gigabyte flash drives for less than twenty bucks. I suppose the day will come when they seem small, but I’m not looking forward to it.

In yet another case of speeding technology, I find myself thinking about replacing my four-year-old keyboard Kindle. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I use it regularly. But the new Kindle Voyage is so tempting, with its larger, paper white screen, self-adjusting light, and much higher pixel per inch count. Although I still prefer to read paper books, many of my friends publish electronically these days. It seems that a good e-reader, unheard of when those first flash drives arrived or even when Alphie was born, is almost a necessity today.

I don’t think I’ll replace my relatively simple TracFone, though. It does (occasional) phone calls and text messages, and not much else, but I can’t convince myself I need more than that (or the monthly bill that comes with a smart phone). Maybe there are some areas of technology where I don’t need—or even want—to keep up.

Relax and Read More

That’s the only resolution I’m making this year: relax, and spend more time reading.

There was a time in my life when I read close to a book a day. Looking back, I realize how I managed that: no cable TV, no computer, and a rather erratic work schedule. On my computer I have reading lists going back many years (and many computers, come to that, and the earliest ones were done on a typewriter and later committed to the first computer I owned).

The To Be Read PileThe list for 1980, for example, isn’t numbered, but it’s nine pages long. Almost all science fiction and mysteries back then, and a scattering of non-fiction. (Still no computer in 1980—no Internet, no email, no following links for an hour until I’ve forgotten what I was originally looking for.) The list for 1990 is only three (single-spaced) pages long, science fiction, mysteries, and lots of non-fiction, much of it on the craft of writing. (I had a computer by then, but if I had an Internet connection, it worked with the majestic speed of glaciers.)

In 2000 I read 24 romances, 14 mysteries, 20 “other fiction,” and 20 non-fiction, a mixture of research, writing, and general interest books. Move up another decade: in 2010, I read a total of 43 books: 8 romances, 13 mysteries, 4 science fiction novels, 7 other novels, and 11 non-fiction.

I’ve been pretty consistent over the last few years: 41 books in 2011, 39 in 2012, 39 in 2013. Well above the national average, I suspect, but nothing that would have impressed my mother. (I jumped over to my browser, typed in something like “national average books read,” and discovered that the average American adult read twelve books in 2013, thus proving that almost anything can send me scurrying off into Google-land.) In 2014 I read 48 books (13 romances, 14 mysteries, 8 science fiction, 7 other novels, and 6 non-fiction).

In 2011 I bought a Kindle, after several years of insisting that I didn’t want to read ebooks. That year I read nine books on my Kindle, out of 41. In 2012 it was 13 ebooks out of 39, in 2013 14 out of 39, and in 2014 16 out of 48. I seem to have settled at about one third ebooks to two thirds paper.  (Let’s not even think about how many unread books are waiting on my Kindle.)

What got me started on all this rather pointless research was the last book I read in 2014, Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. I have a whole stack on Dennis’ books on the shelf, most of them very old, brittle and yellowing from age and many readings, some held together by scotch tape and nostalgia. Some of them belonged to my mother, and we both read each of them multiple times. When I saw Auntie Mame available for my Kindle recently for $1.99, I downloaded it and enjoyed it just as much as I did decades ago.

I have walls full of books that I won’t part with because I want to read them again one day, or so I tell myself. I know full well that I should weed a lot of those out and send them off to new homes, because I’ve lost interest or will just never get around to them again, but there are so many that I want to keep, just like those ancient Patrick Dennis novels, because I love them. But I also have shelves full of books that I haven’t read but really want to—that’s why I bought them, after all—and that invisible To Be Read stack on my Kindle.

So I looked back a few years to see just how much re-reading I’ve managed to do lately. In 2014, Auntie Mame, Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson, and Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly, all on my Kindle (Hambly was an accident—I read a couple of chapters before I realized I’d read the original paperback edition when it came out twenty years ago, but I enjoyed it just as much this time around).

In 2013, I reread science fiction by H. Beam Piper and John Wyndham, both on paper, and Shirley Jackson’s Life among the Savages on my Kindle. In 2012 it was more long-remembered science fiction: Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Land that Time Forgot trilogy (on my Kindle, pretty much a guilty pleasure, terribly dated), Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, DeCamp and Sprague’s The Mathematics of Magic, and Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy (all of those on paper and all well worth rereading). In 2011, three old favorites by Wyndham (another beloved author whose books I actually replaced with new editions from the Book Depository), Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

I have no idea what any of this means, but it’s been fun picking out the stats. Now it’s time to go sit on the couch and read, so I can start a new computer file: BOOKLIST 2015. And I promised Goodreads that I’d read fifty books in 2015. I’m actually in the middle of three right now, so that seems doable.

Happy New Year, everyone, Happy Reading, and thanks for dropping by.

Books, Books and More Books

 

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