Category Archives: Technology

Release your inner geek

A writer friend of mine this past week suffered one of the worst things that can happen to any writer — her laptop decided 1) it would present her with the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death) and then 2) refuse to boot once she managed to get past the BSOD. Now, fortunately for my friend, she is a wise woman and she had almost everything backed up. That is the first rule of writers when you look at the tech end of our business — always back up your work. The first caveat of that rule is to back up in multiple locations. You never know when that thumb drive you use will find its way into the wash.

Now, my friend is, as I said, wise. She instantly started asking around for help. Did any of us know what the problem might be and if there was a work-around. At the same time, she broke out her old computer — but it is old and cranky, so it isn’t reliable. Wise woman that she is, she immediately started looking for a replacement for the retired computer even as she decided who to take her laptop to. (The final verdict isn’t in on it but best guess is the hard drive died although it could also be an issue with her motherboard.)

I use my friend as an example because we, as writers, rely upon our tech and gadgets to get our work done these days. Most publishers require electronic submission. We have multiple drafts of our work, each one a different stage in the creative and editorial process. If we don’t have them backed up and something happens to our computer/laptop/tablet, we could be in deep doo-doo.

This is where I am going to tell you to do something you might not want to do. After all, your spouse/partner/kid/brother/sister/best friend are much more tech savvy than you. Besides, you bought that extended warranty to cover whatever might happen to your work machine. So you’re good. Right?

Wrong.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. I’m fairly tech savvy. I have built my own PCs from the ground up. I’ve upgraded PCs and laptops as needed. I like me some new tech — after the bugs have been worked out for the most part. So I’m not scared of tech and enjoy working with it.

My main work machine is also my gaming laptop. It’s one of the best Asus Republic of Gamers laptops that I’ve had for about two years now. Great machine. But, just before my initial manufacturer’s warranty ran out, the “w” key quit working. Well, drat. It’s hard to be a writer — and a gamer — and not use that key. Before contacting Asus, I did some research. It seems this is a known issue with these laptops and Asus is usually really good about taking care of it. So, half an hour later, I had my claim filed with Asus and everything was in the works to send the laptop in for service.

Now, because I’m a techie, I do have backup machines. So it wasn’t as though I was going to be without a laptop for the two – three weeks the repair would take. Still, I missed my rocking ROG laptop and was thrilled to get it back.

Until, a few months later, I started noticing another issue with the laptop. Overnight, the battery quit charging. Then the keyboard started lagging and skipping not just a letter here and there but entire words and phrases. That is problematic for a writer. So I called Asus and, while they were really nice, they reminded me that I was out of the manufacturer’s warranty. The best they could do was have me send it in — at their cost — and they would look into it and let me know how much it would cost to do any needed repairs.

Crap! No way.

Then I remembered that I had bought the extended warranty through Square Trade. So I called them and thus began my frustration. Several calls and service reps later and all I knew for sure was that they would send me a box and mailing label and that they would do the repairs, not Asus. Oh, I had the option of finding someone local to repair the machine and then I could submit my bill for the repairs to them for reimbursement but there was no guarantee they would pay it all.

Double crap!

Feeling I didn’t have much of a choice, I told them to send me the mailing box and I’d be sending them my laptop. When the mailing box arrived, I was not happy. Unlike the box and other material I had received from Asus, this was a think cardboard box with no packing material, nothing to help protect the laptop. I was seriously doubting my decision to send them anything, much less my laptop.

So, still not happy because they hadn’t even given me a hint about what might be wrong with the laptop, I went back to the internet and some of the computer fora I frequent from time to time. It didn’t take me more than an hour or so to narrow down what the problem was. It seems that this sort of letter and work skipping happens when you have a malfunctioning battery in place. Hmm. My battery no longer charged. Could it be that simple?

So, knowing I had nothing to lose, I removed the battery from its housing and plugged the laptop back in and wow! No more problem. I’d lost almost a week of working on the ROG laptop because of the skipping letters and words thing but now I knew what the problem was. Take the battery out and everything works just fine.

That left just finding a new battery and getting it bought and delivered — which was another joy in trying to find one for less than a hundred bucks. But I did and it works perfectly.

The moral of this story is that I saved myself money and frustration by simply taking some time to research the problem. The steps I took to see if the problem was easily solved were such that they couldn’t have damaged the laptop and voided the extended warranty. But I also listened to my gut which was telling me that the warranty folks might not be the best place to send it (full disclosure here. I had no such issues dealing with Square Trade when I had to replace my Kindle Fire HDX. That was as simple as Amazon simply telling them to authorize the replacement at no cost. But for the laptop issue, well, that was something else.)

So here’s what I’d like everyone to consider to protect themselves from catastrophic tech failure:

  • Back up all your work on more than one device.
  • Do not rely solely on cloud backups.
  • When you upgrade your work machine, if your other machine still works, keep it. You never know when you will need a backup.
  • Learn the basics of your machine. Print out the list of hardware and OS version or make note of it somewhere.
  • Keep all your drivers up-to-date.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your machine and how it works.
  • Listen to your gut when it comes to your work computer. If you think something might be wrong, pay attention. If you catch the problem early enough, you can often avoid having something major go wrong.

Now, I’m off to find coffee and finish an editing job that is way overdue but had to take a backseat as real life decided to use me as its soccer ball.

And don’t forget the 2nd Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale is still going on.

Hand Delivered Story Ideas

NYSE

Wow, what a blinding great story we had this week with a simultaneous triad of crises on a single day! At the same time that trading on the New York Stock Exchange came to a screeching halt Wednesday, the jet fleet of a major airline was grounded by a computer glitch and the website of a major national newspaper was disabled. Although not the first time, it certainly is a rare occasion for an event of such economic significance to occur, especially at the largest stock exchange in the world. But, it is even more notable when, at the same time, the system-wide operations at United Airlines was halted and the Wall Street Journal’s website was taken offline.

The official reasons provided for the temporary shut-downs were stated as technical issues and had nothing to do with hackers or terrorism. Okay, I suppose I believe that – well, more or less. I suppose I have to, since I don’t have much of a choice. After all, in the scheme of things, who really cares whether I believe it or not?

But, without knowing for sure –without positive proof in my hand – my mind quickly began racing with conspiracy plot lines. What a great opportunity this is for a mystery story or a novel of international intrigue and economic upheaval. And for credibility, I could even base the central premise on Wednesday’s real-life event. Isn’t it great when story ideas are hand delivered; when “truth is stranger than fiction?”!

If I wasn’t already working on another story and I had the time, I would have been spending the past day or two developing that plot. What first came to mind involved a group of hackers, starting with the Chinese or ISIS terrorists. However, it could also have been a rising Mexican drug cartel or a European billionaire investor causing upheaval in the NYSE toward global economic and political domination.

But, that’s all too easy. I think I would rather dig deeper and make the reason more subtle and shrewd. I think I would want to sit down for a few days and really think it through so I could add a few twists and turns beyond the obvious for a more original read before revealing the twisted truth. Of course, the reason would still have to be earth-shattering to justify all the cunning work of shutting down a major stock exchange, airline and newspaper. But, it would also have to be something realistic that people can generally relate to and not some wild, out-of-this-world storyline.

I would want to start it offshore, in an exotic location. For me, that would likely be Europe, since I have some familiarity with the continent. I would look for secondary news events that have the potential to lead to such a dramatic climax, but don’t usually make the international headlines. It would be something that people could look back on and say, “Yes, I never thought of that, but should have seen it as a possibility.”

So, while I stash this idea in my files for possible use in the future, where would you want to take this story?

 

The Evolution of Writing – A Personal Perspective

It is three decades this month since I graduated college. In some ways, it seems like it all happened a short time ago and in some ways, well, as if it was a whole different lifetime ago.

A former colleague of mine and I were talking about this earlier this week, but not just to idly reminisce. We focused on how the art of writing has changed just during these last few decades.

As a senior in college, the standard writing tool for a formal paper back in the 80s was still the typewriter, which had been around, even at that time, for 120 or so years. However, I thought I was something special in college, because as a lowly student, I had access to an IBM Selectric, electric typewriter and its moving ball. But, even that seems like ancient technology now.

For me, it was the next year, 1986, when all of technology seemed to change. That was the year I began using the Macintosh Plus and I considered myself ahead of the curve, being one of the first people I knew to buy one. I even forked out $800 for a simple, black and white laser writer. It was all such a marvel!

Aside from not having to struggle with the messy eraser or correction paper, I could do all sorts of formatting with my Mac, of which we take for granted today. The printed pages all looked so clean and professional, even for an amateur, like me. Of course, today, printing articles and stories with a professional look is common place. But, back then, just 30 years ago, I felt like it was a bright new world had been opened. Although I did try, I could not envision back then how much word processing would progress 10, 20 and 30 years later.

Of course, today, computers do so much more than word processing. For instance, who could foresee back then the arrival of the internet and that touch screen technology would move past science fiction within my life time. But, here we are, not that many years later, and touch screens magically seem to be yet another futuristic technology that is common place.

For someone who felt they had been a head of the computer curve early on, I now feel, today, like I am lagging behind with just a laptop. Sometimes, I’m amazed I managed to switch from a desktop at all, which happened, already, nearly 10 years ago. Does anyone even use desktops anymore?

As technologically lagging as I may be in these brave years of advanced gadgets – without an IPad or Tablet – I know a couple of people who have never even discovered a desktop, laptop or cell phone. I mention this because I don’t think it’s just an age thing – and they are older than I am – but a state of mind and a desire to engage socially and culturally through our life-changing apps and internet with the world.

We have, indeed, progressed so far in so few years that I hope I can find my way and time at some point to at least try to catch up closer to the leading edge of this thrilling curve.