Monday Challenge: Tech Gone Wild

Cleaning up after robot parties is the fucking WORST.

Hopefully, by the time this is live, my computer will have been resurrected from the dead shell of aluminum and silicon that it’s been for the last couple of weeks.* If not, then hopefully I will have managed to replace it with something. Maybe a brain implant.

Funny how even the near-complete failure of technology recently hasn’t turned me off from the idea of implantable computers. I mean, yeah, it’d probably be even more of a problem if the hard drive in my brain failed, but until then I’d be able to do research by thinking of it. And I could stream movies directly to my optic nerves.**

Until that slightly unsettling day, though, I’ll have to work with this stuff. On the upside, I’ve been learning even more about how my computer actually works, which will be a valuable skill when I someday have to troubleshoot my cerebral cortex.

If I’ve learned anything floating through forums and advice columns and tutorials, it’s that most people know jack shit about how their computers work. About technology in general, really. We use it every day–in some cases we depend on it–but we have no more understanding of it than my cat does of how the fridge works.

Just to be clear, I’m not slagging those who don’t know how to fix everything in their house. I have a theoretical understanding of how my car works, but I still take it to the garage. And I only started learning about computers a few years ago, when I had to. And then, trust me: my cat trying to figure out the fridge was an apt comparison.

She knows food comes from it; she knows you need hands to open it; she knows that if she’s cute, one of the Hand-Owning Giants will open it for her and extract food. Beyond that, she doesn’t really give a damn.

And why should she? It does what it has to, and she’s happy. Just like we are with our technological devices.

Until they fail.

Monday Challenge: write me the failure of technology. What do the characters do? Has it failed, or has it gained sentience? Can they survive without it, or do they need to attempt to fix it? What happens when they do?

I’m going to go back to fixing my hard drive.

*As of this writing. Man, prepping stuff in advance is hard. It’s like trying to figure out the right verb tenses for time travel.

**I wonder if they’re HD.


How To Back Up Your Shit

That tower only had two weeks to retirement. Fucking shame.

I realize too late that the title for this post sounds like a cure for colon problems. Lest anyone get confused: THIS BLOG IS NOT ABOUT POOP.

…Most of the time.

Regular readers know of the horror which occurred recently: my hard drive shit itself.* It was entirely unresponsive without some side-load finagling, and even when I managed to access the drive, there was only one solution: erase it right down to the zeroes and start fresh.

Now, this was not the absolute shit show it could have been, because I back my work up. All of it. Multiple times a day. Because while I love technology, I don’t always trust it.

But this failure has made me re-examine my backup policy. Because, frankly, it could be better. And when this happens again, I will be more prepared.

Bare Knuckle Guide To Backing Up Your Shit

1. Go Offsite. You can back up to the Cloud** or some other service, but you should have at least one backup that isn’t in your house. Because floods/fires/earthquakes/catastrophic clown invasions happen, people.

There are a bunch of services that will do this for you. I use Crash Plan because it makes backing up automatic. I download the software, seed the initial backup, and then it runs by itself, only backing up the files that have changed every day. The only downside to Crash Plan is that both initial backup and remote restore can be slow. It took a week for my initial, and it will be five days before I get every single file back from its servers. If you live in the US, however, they also offer Restore To Your Door, where they just courier you a hard drive filled with your stuff.

Crash Plan–and other services–also give you the option of backing up to a friend’s computer, in case you’re connected to someone who doesn’t mind you storing copies of your shameful pornography collection on their hard drive.

2. Go Local. You want a local backup, too, if only for the restoring. This is where my plan lacked. I had an external hard drive, but I rarely remembered to back up to it because I had to plug it in, start the backup, and bitch moan whine. So I had no local backup. Which wasn’t a problem until now, when I have to restore nearly a terabyte of information at 7 mbps.

I have a new external hard drive. It holds more information and yet is small and portable, so I’ll be travelling with it in case the laptop decides to crap itself again while I’m on the road and away from wi-fi.

Get one. Back up with it once a day. You can even get wi-fi enabled ones, though they’ll likely take longer to back up.

3. Friend In My Pocket. I keep the files that I’m working on right this second on a thumb drive as well. Two reasons: one, if I decide I need to show someone something, it’s right there in my pocket, and two, I’m paranoid. You might think this is redundant, and you’re right. But redundant in the case of back ups of your work is not bad. It’s just good sense.

4. Evernote. I also store some projects on Evernote, especially ones that are in the editing phase. Then, whenever I’m stuck somewhere, I can pull out my phone and peruse, making notes as I do so.

5. Email. I know a fair amount of people who email documents to themselves to save them. I tend to go this route by accident: I email a file to someone else, which saves a copy in my ‘Sent’ folder. Not a bad way to go, though I find it cumbersome.

Extra Bonus Paranoia Points: Hard Copy. There’s nothing like a hard copy of your manuscript. But, unless you have unlimited space, you’re going to be limited to one copy of each. Even then, if you’re prolific–say, writing a blog three times a week–you’re going to need a big goddamn filing cabinet to keep up with that stuff. And then there’s the drafts, and revisions, and everything else. It’s a lot of trees to kill, but if you need a physical object in order to feel at ease, then do so.

Godspeed, little writers. May you never forget to back up, and may your hard drives remain uncorrupted.

*All right, maybe it’s a little about poop.

**A friend of mine had a little browser extension that replaced ‘the cloud’ with ‘my butt’. Yes, we are all twelve inside.

How A Writer Travels

Mommy’s going to the moon, BRB.

1. Pack the computer. Don’t forget the goddamn charger. You know what happens when you forget the goddamn charger.

2. Pack the notebook. Because keeping all your ideas in one place is fucking laughable.

3. Pack the backup notebook. In case the first one gets wet/set on fire/confiscated by security/stolen by airport gremlins/transported to the Narnia of Lost Travel Items*.

4. Remember that you forgot to backup your files. Unpack the computer and start the backup.

5. Pick out a pen. Applicants must: write fluidly with none of your goddamn skipping or fading; be ink so black light gets drawn in to its felt-tipped event horizon; be thin because I hate big pens; and cheap enough to not be the cause of a rage fit if I lose it.

6. Wonder why the backup is taking so goddamn long. Remember that all those multimedia files you added to your story bibles and outlines are probably not helping.

7. Get paranoid about the effects of airport scanner machines on your laptop.

8. Wonder if you should pack a backup computer.

9. Wonder where you can get a backup computer.

10. Resolve to stop worrying and embrace travel. Think of those pictures of the free-spirited flights of the 60s, where everyone looked stunning and no one had crying infants. Like Mad Men in the sky.

11. Realize those pictures are bullshit. Seriously, fuck those guys.

12. Pack index cards. Two colours. And a sharpie. You never know when you’ll have to outline on the road.

13. Check the backup. Nope. You have to wait.

14. Wonder if you should pack your sketch book, too. What if I have to think in pictures?

15. Compromise by packing a combined notebook/sketchbook. Feel satisfied at making a decision like an adult.

16. Get paranoid about losing a notebook and a sketchbook in one fell travel-related swoop.

17. Drink.

18. Pack everything that’s not the computer.

19. Stare at the computer.

20. Staaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrreee.

21. Why isn’t it done yet?

22. Drink again.

23. Fuck this back up. It’s good enough. Pack the computer.

24. Leave in the full knowledge that you are a well-prepared traveling wordsmith, able to deal with anything that comes. Fly. Check in. Relax. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

25. Realize you left the computer’s charger at home.

(No Monday Challenge this week because, if you didn’t gather from the above, I’m on a trip to Somewhere. Writing prompts will be back next week, but otherwise posts will be up as usual. As you were.)

*Like regular Narnia, but without the creepy Christianity overtones and nothing ever comes back. So, more like that ‘farm’ your parents said your childhood dog went to live on.

Story Time: The Little Writer Who Caused Unspeakable Horror

blue screen

Fuck a pale horse, Death rides one of these. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a little writer. She was a good writer, and she spent a lot of time on her manuscript. Every day, she went to her computer and wrote, chipping away at the monolithic story-block like a monkey working on a rock with a slightly smaller rock. Every day it got a little bit longer, and a little bit better.

Finally, one day, after many months of toil, she reached a place she had only heard of in tales: the ending of the story. It was a proud moment. She took a second to savour it before neatly typing in the last two words of the manuscript: THE END. And then she closed her computer and went to drink a bottle of good red wine to celebrate. And there was feasting and carousing, and afterwards the writer slept deep.

The following morning, she awoke with a slight hangover and wondered what to do now. It had been so long since her day had not centered around writing the story that she was momentarily at a loss. No matter, she thought to herself. I will take the day off. But first, I will go look upon the work that I have created, so that I can relax with a smug sense of self-satisfaction.

So she went to her computer and turned it on. But something was amiss. Instead of her familiar desktop full of robots and rocket ships, there was only a fuzzy blue screen. For the computer, faithful friend of many days, had taken ill. The writer, panic rising, tried the many tricks she had learned over the course of her writing to cure the computer, but to no avail. The sickness, probably contracted while visiting some of the less reputable corners of the Internet, was swift, and soon the computer died.

And the writer stared at the blank screen in horror, for she now realized that the computer was not all that had died. She had been so busy focusing on the writing that she had forgotten to back up her manuscript. And now, with the computer’s death throes, her story was lost forever.

Great was her despair, and soon it changed to anger. The writer rose from her desk, but she was a writer no more. Now she was vengeance itself. With an army of technology-hating mutated lint balls, she stalks the land, unplugging computers and smashing monitors at will. The world trembles at her terrible passage, for it means the time of the Frozen Screen of Death is upon us.

And all this could have been avoided had the former writer simply backed up her work.

I don’t usually write didactic stories, but I’ll make an exception just this once. Back your shit up, people. More than once. And in more than one place. Preferably some kind of external hard drive/flash drive/whatever along with some kind of cloud/database/wilds of the Internet storage. And maybe a printed copy tucked in your bottom drawer. Don’t let a random computer glitch take it all down. Because it can.

And then God help us all.

You’re A Tool, Part One: Hardware


Ah, there’s your problem: Laptop Shoulder. (Photo credit: linus_art)

Every writer develops their own set of tools to get their job done. I divide mine into three categories: hardware, software, and wetware. So here’s a look at my tool box. Part One: Hardware, because scrawling on the floor in your own waste only takes you so far.

Tech Level:

1. The Computer of All Things: The vast majority of my life is spent on my Macbook Pro these days. She’s an upgrade from my old plasticky Macbook, who I loved very much but who has now retired to live in my steamer trunk with all my yarn.* I like the mobility a laptop gives me, so I can drift around the house to work. And also take it on trips with me. I suspect, however, that I will someday pay a price for the lack of ergonomics, probably in the currency of Shoulder Pain.**

2. The LifePhone: I fucking love my iPhone. It’s one of those things that I wasn’t sure I was going to like but now am physically incapable of living without. Seriously, it’s a problem. I’ll have to be surgically separated from it one day. But not today. You will pry that thing from my cold dead hands, and even then, my cold dead hands won’t want to give it up. My zombie self will fight you for that phone.
Writing-wise, I make notes and voice memos on it when I’m out and about and get ideas. Sometimes drawings, too. I’ve also got it loaded with a couple of key apps, including an interval timer to measure my work times on busy days (because I’m insane).

3. The Library: Or, as it is more commonly known, the Kindle. I carry a shitload of books on it, including copies of my current projects. Just so I can have a look at them when I’m away from the computer because I am totally that addicted. I also like it for editing. I spot mistakes on it easier, for some reason. And, of course, I use it for general reading.

Luddite Level:

1. Whiteboards: God, I love whiteboards. These are for working out big ideas. Things that are too big to fit inside my brain. Sometimes I have to take something out of my brain to unfold it properly, and whiteboards seem to be the best for those. I’ve tried chalkboards, but they’re too dusty. And I’ve used that brown paper you wrap packages in. That’s great for maps and things I don’t want to erase. But it’s usually whiteboards, with many colours of markers.

2. Actual Paper: And finally, I have a notebook. A thing with covers and pages that I take notes in. Actually, I have three: the personal journal, which stays on my desk; the hardcover one that I write most of my story ideas in and which travels to and fro; and the emergency back up notebook that is tiny and lives in a hidden pocket of my purse and never comes out except when I have no other notebooks on hand and really really need to write something down. And, of course, I have a selection of pens. Not pencils, I hate writing in pencil. Smudgy grey bastards. Pens for me. Preferably black. And one red one, in case I want to do some drawings of more than one colour. Also, it’s my favourite colour.

These items make up my survival kit. Some variation of this comes with me everywhere. On long trips, it’s everything but the whiteboard; day trips are more likely to be just the phone and the notebook. I never like to be too far from my writing. It makes me twitchy. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m twitchy.

But, like I said, everyone’s got their own. And mine is constantly evolving as I try new things and steal methods from other people. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of trying Pinterest, which seems to be a current darling of many. So tell me, Dear Reader: what’s in your kit?

*Not a metaphor for something unspeakable. I also knit, and really do have a steamer trunk full of yarn. I like to think of the old computer in there hibernating like a bear, with a steady stream of Zzzz’s coming from under the lid.

**And the exchange rate is shit.