I've been trying to find an appropriate pure writing tool for a while. I haven't written any fiction lately and part of that is the easy distraction of the Internet. I've been trying to find a suitable tool out of my own vast store of old computers. (While I tossed most of them, I did keep a few small laptops.) My requirements are:
Here's how it's going...
White Polycarb MacBook
The old MacBook is what I've been using up until now. It has a new battery, so is good for 2-3 hours. Dropbox/SugarSync keep files updated on the desktop. But, geez, it gets hot on my lap and is packed with as many distractions as the desktop.
Even with wifi turned off, the MacBook isn't ideal. It's heavy and gets hot. The battery is only good for a couple hours. It has a lengthy start-up time. The keyboard is okay, but doesn't have full-height keys.
It's a great laptop, for its time. It's not a great writing machine.
I pulled the old Tandy WP-2 out of storage. It really is a dedicated writing too. It's thin and light and runs for weeks on four AAs. It still worked, too, but the contrast on the screen has faded over the years. You can barely see the text. That alone makes it a non-starter.
So I tried the Tandy Model 100. It still works like a champ. It runs weeks on four AA batteries. It has a great keyboard.
Alas, transferring files is a chore. I can do it, mind you. All I have to do is hook up a 25-pin-to-9-pin adapter to a serial-to-USB adapter. Then make sure the serial driver for the desktop's USB port is running. Then fire up an actual telecom terminal application. Next, ensure the settings match between the app and the Tandy 100. Then send the file, capturing the text in the telecom app. Then save that text out to a text file and load it into something else.
Yeah, that's all. I mean, it's not that onerous a task, but it's just onerous enough that it's keeping me from actually doing any writing on it.
Apple eMate 300
The keyboard is slightly smaller than full-size. Plus, the home row is way off-center. I hate that in a laptop. I need G & H to be centered with the screen, dammit! Also hurting it is that I'd need to run Newton syncing software. The official Apple software doesn't run on Intel chips. There's third-party stuff available, but it's a fragile situation.
The final nail? The battery pack is old and doesn't hold a charge. You can build one if you're handy with a soldering iron and have the desire. I'm not and don't.
Another option is the Lexbook MB-15, sitting upstairs. It's a DOS machine, so I could run SpeedScript on it. (I loved SpeedScript. I had the Pascal source code, so I could add features, and fix a page eject bug.) Decent keyboard. Can run on six AA batteries, in place of the long-dead battery pack.
It suffers from the same problems as the Tandy machines. Gotta engage in serial-to-USB silliness to copy across files.
(Oh, looking at the entry for the Lexbook, it's no longer working anyway.)
One final option was to pair my first gen Nexus 7 with a cheap, but nice, Bluetooth keyboard I picked up for $5. Needs a case, though. I keep meaning to hollow out an old book for this, but I just haven't yet.
Alas, the tablet provides tons of distraction and I'd have to remember to keep both the tablet and the keyboard charged.
So, with all these options not up to snuff, I'm left with having to buy something...
A MacBook Air would be a (pricy) option. Also, the keyboard gets worse with each iteration. Typing on a shallow keyboard is just wrong. Not really an option here.
The Hemingwrite, now called the Freewrite by Astrohaus, looks really sweet. Mechanical keyboard, continual back-up to the cloud, and a sharp ePaper screen for long battery life.
But it's also $400, only supports three documents, and you can't edit at all!
What!? I understand that there's a difference between writing and editing. My biggest hurdle when writing is to stop myself from word-smithing on the fly. But, dammit, sometimes you need to go back and fix something.
So I decided to pick up an Alphasmart. These are keyboards with small LCD screens. They're basically the same idea as a Tandy WP-2.
They are, however, new enough that some models support USB, acting like a keyboard. You plug them in, fire up a word processor or text editor, and the Alphasmart literally types your document out on the desktop.
The Dana line uses the old Palm OS. Palm syncing on OSX is a big bag of hurt. The screen is larger than other AlphaSmart models and is backlit. The battery life is much shorter than other models. They have SD card slots, but the files saved there aren't plain text; they're Palm's proprietary format. So, nope.
There's the Original/Pro/2000/3000 line, with insane battery life, getting up to 700 hours on three AAs, but they have really small screens. Only the 3000 supports USB. The 3000 would certainly work, but there's a better option!
The Neo line! Same insane battery life. A bit more memory. Larger screen. Includes a USB connection! I've heard a few rumblings that the USB stuff can be flaky with a Mac, but, oh look, they also have a PS2 port! (And I have a very nice PS2-to-USB adapter I use for my old Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite fetish.)
The only downside is that the screen isn't backlit. I can live with that.
Found one on eBay for $25 with free shipping! We'll see how it works out!
I love 3D printing. I've been playing around with it loads the past year or so. I don't have a 3D printer of my own, yet, so I rely heavily on Shapeways to actually print out things I design.
I've been getting into the old Tom Baker/Elisabeth Sladen Doctor Who episodes that I loved as a kid. So I designed up a wee Tardis for myself to 3D print. It's a shade over 2 inches tall and looks like this:
Like it? You can print your own, too!
I've been playing around with dumping various memesque graphics to Tumblr.
It's all goofy and inconsequential. There are some sweet panos stitched from Destination Moon and from some episodes of Thundarr the Barbarian. You'll also find some captioned stills from old episodes of The Avengers and Doctor Who. (Peel-era and 4th/Sarah Jane Smith-era, natch.) There are other things, too.
So, take a look.
Or, y'know, don't.
Hey! What's that on the back cover? A blurb from my review? Excellent!
The cover really brings the steampunk goodness home, too.
As before, pick it up if you want some steampunky erotica that's really some
F****ing weird-ass s***, man!
Well, how about some really short music reviews, instead of the usual book reviews?
I have two main resources for musical insight these days. One is Tuff Gnarl, at least partially run by Chuck Livid, who used to run Livid Records. The other is Sound It Out. Tuff Gnarl runs more towards the punk side, while Sound It Out has a broader overall coverage.
So here's some stuff to which I first listened to in 2014-2015. That doesn't mean something came out recently, just that I bought it recently. Releases are roughly in order of their coming to my attention.
Beauty & Ruin by Bob Mould
Sounds like vintage Bob Mould. To be honest, none of it really stood out for me, but it's solid Bob. If you like Bob's solo work, you'll like this.
I've Failed You by Kittie
I haven't really listened to Kittie since their debut. This new-ish release is tighter, more restrained. Musically, they're more skilled, but it's missing the raw edge of their early work.
This will probably work for you if you're more of a fan of this style of metal than I am.
Greatest Hits, Vol. 16 by the Donnas
This is a hodge-podge of new tracks, re-recorded tracks, unreleased tracks, and live tracks. The new ones are okay, but the Donnas lost their punk edge a while back and never really recovered from it. The re-recorded tracks are some of their very early songs rescued from their extremely lo-fi recording abilities at the time. Alas, they also lack the edge of youth. They sonically sound better while not being anywhere near as exciting. The rest is fine, but nothing really stands out.
The Menace by Elastica
Each song sounds like some sort of novelty experiment. None really work. Disappointing.
Cannibal Island by the Young Rochelles
Miss the Dickies? These folks are a decent replacement.
Intercourse by Intercourse
Sounds an awful lot like early Henry-era Black Flag. Brings up the same pissy punk rage feelings from my youth. Crank it loud in the car.
Unfortunately, the band didn't properly set up their Bandcamp account, so they never received my money. This makes me sad.
Lady Bits by Lady Bits
Atonal riot grrrls.
Village of Weedville by Village of Weedville
Awesome chunk of southern rock. Sort of a bastard mix of Nashville Pussy, Drive-By Truckers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd? I dunno. All I know is that I like it. (If you can't enjoy a song joyously called
She Eats Pussy, then I don't think you can enjoy life.)
Lost Sirens by New Order
Alternate tracks and outtakes from the last New Order album. There's a reason they were left off the album. Totally unnecessary.
Rips by Ex Hex
At first, this sounded like a more instrumentally skilled version of Famous Monsters. Turns out they're more like the Cramps. I know it's hard to think back, but the Cramps didn't really click for me, at first. It took some listening before they oozed into my brain. Same thing here. After a bit, the songs suddenly are insanely catchy and won't leave your head.
Ex Hex by Mary Timony
Hey! This record has the same name as the previous band! That's because the band is led by Timony. So, this release has a similar habit of worming its way into your head.
Reboot by Go Betty Go
So, Go Betty Go broke up, reformed, and launched this crowd-funded release. It's pretty good, but I would be lying if I said it was as good as their pre-breakup releases. The thing is, those earlier records set a high bar. I have high hopes for future efforts.
Spin-O-Rama by the Primitives
Oh, my, the same sunny bright pop as in the 80s. It's as if they stepped out of a time machine.
The Way by Buzzcocks
Sounds like current day Buzzcocks, no more, no less.
Aliens in the Outfield by Diarrhea Planet
Tasty power-pop leaning towards the rock side, with a really unfortunate name. Sure, it would be great for a punk band. This isn't a punk band.
REV by the Reverend Horton Heat
The previous Reverend release leaned more country. Perhaps it didn't sell well, because this one leans heavily towards the sort of classic frat boy rockabilly that made their name. It's a rollicking fun listen, although
Let Me Teach You How To Eat is just an awful attempt at a double-entendre song, despite the inclusion of some deliciously chubbier cheesecake in the video. Their own
Wiggle Stick is a much better example.
Girlpool by Girlpool
Do you wish the Murmurs were punkier and had worse voices. Here you go!
Ummm, that's actually a recommendation.
Back From The Abyss by Orange Goblin
Solid metal, but they really wear their inspirations on their sleeves. Oh, yeah, that's a Motorhead song. Yep, that's an Iron Maiden song. Again, it's solid stuff, just very derivative at times.
Let It Rock by The Georgia Satellites
Got a little change in my pocket, going jing-a-ling-a-ling...
So I picked up this great best-of. They were a great band, with more great songs than just their one big hit. I was actually pointed at the disc by an article describing their cover of
Don't Pass Me By as sounding like a southern Replacements. I'll be damned it if doesn't, too.
Treatment Bound by Bright Little Field
I recently bought an ukulele. I was working on learning
If Only You Were Lonely and decided to pick up this ukulele tribute to the Replacements. It's excellent. The ukulele has a clear presence in each song, without being just a novelty. The simple arrangements really showcase Westerberg's writing ability.
Would you like some noise rock with more than a nod towards Chrome, yet with more typical song lengths? Then you'll love these two CDs.
Afraid of Ghosts by Butch Walker
Sadly, Butch's father died recently. This album is a tribute to him, so it's full of sad songs. The trouble is that I don't like Butch's sad songs very much. Not because they're sad; because they're not very good. It's just not a genre at which he excels.
So, I was in need of a Butchesque fix. Luck was with me! I was shuffling basically everything on my hard drive and up popped a song called
West Coast. It was from the party mix CD from the movie Cloverfield, by a band called Coconut Records. Just a nice piece of sweet pop.
So, I looked them up. Turns out that Coconut Records is a one-man band, and that one man is actor Jason Schwartzman. Yes, I know, music made by actors is nearly always completely awful. But this guy was actually in a band before he became an actor. Anyway, bottom line is that both records are delightful.
Musically, he's basically a less polished Butch Walker. Despite being from California, his vocals add in a bit of Geoff Useless' New England accent, to charming effect. (He also has a major Beatles obsession, to the point of being derivative. But, hell, there are entire music genres that are derivative of individual Beatles songs.)
The songs are catchy as all get out while covering a surprising variety. The physical CDs also include a load of alternate versions, which are themselves quite listenable.
Pink Palms et al by The Bots
Basically, take the White Strips, add in a heavier sound, subtract the pretentiousness. Sounds great? It is pretty great. Then keep in mind that both of the band members just became adults. These are two seriously talented guys.
So, here's the first book conforming to my 2015 resolution, Flat Earth by Christine Garwood. It examines fairly recent beliefs in an actual flat Earth. It's an amusing read, in places, but drags most of the time.
It starts out with a couple chapters explaining why we as a culture thought folks back in Columbus' time even thought that the world was flat. (Actually, I didn't think they thought that, nor I suspect do many people today.) Turns out it was evil secularists, trying to drive a wedge between religion and science! No, really, that's what the first couple chapters are about. It's awkward, as if she has an axe to grind, but just a wee axe, not deserving of a longer treatment.
Then we get into some fairly modern-day believers and their activities. The characters are, at times, colorful. Often, they're just misguided fools, spewing the same bad arguments over and over. They're often lauded at the time for their debate skills, despite their lack of good arguments. Obviously, there are parallels with creationists today. These parallels are mentioned but not really analyzed in any way.
Eventually, the book works its way through several people. It ends with a summary that criticizes secularists a bit more, while somewhat lauding the Flat Earth people for no apparent reason. There's a mention of the parallels to creationism again, but no analysis, again.
And therein lies the problem with the book. It just doesn't know what it wants to be. Reconciling science and religion is a juicy topic, but isn't treated in depth here, nor even-handedly. Parallels with creationism are ripe with possibilities, but the text never examines these other than to merely mention them. They're no evolution of Flat Earth theories, just the same ones offered over and over.
All that leaves is a book about wacky people who believe wacky things. Frankly, that could be enough, given sufficient wackiness. These folks lack that level of wackiness. They're not boring, mind you. (Well, some are simply boring people.) They're just not interesting enough to carry the book by themselves.
Overall, it's not a bad read, but nor is it really a good read. It was good enough that I read it all the way through, yet I would be lying if I claimed I wasn't looking forward to the end just a bit.
Okay, it's late February, but I do have a New Year's resolution I've been keeping up on. It's a simple one. For 2015, I'm not recreationally reading any books by white men. It's not my own idea, of course. Being a white man, I'd maybe think of one like
read more stuff by women and folks of color. Alas, that's a really fluffy kind of resolution, the sort that's easy on which to slide a bit. A better one? No white men.
Now, truth be told, I did start one book by a white guy in 2015, namely
I meant to mention this resolution earlier, but I'm lazy. Then, today, I saw a similar post and was reminded to mention the resolution here.
I'm on my third book in the resolution period right now. I'll post reviews of the first two soon. Well, soonish.
For some reason I no longer remember, I decided to read Edward Bulwer-Lytton's
Later, I learned of Samuel Butler's
Erewhon, published the very next year. It describes an adventurer stumbling onto an unknown civilization. The protagonist describes the people and society, falls in love with a woman, and attempts to escape when the society endangers him.
So, let's say there's some similarity here. Butler, in a later version's forward, assures the reader that his book was written without any knowledge of the other.
So, let's review them!
If you've ever heard the phrase
It was a dark and stormy night then you've heard of Bulwer-Lytton. So, he's known as a bad writer. Despite that reputation, he was a successful writer. This is the only book of his I've read, so my opinion of his writing is based solely on this one example. My opinion? Well, he wasn't very good.
I'll be honest; I didn't finish the book. It just became too tiresome. Bulwer-Lytton drones on and on, describing aspects of the found society. It's a weird twist on society, matriarchal in odd ways, and I suppose it could be a gripping subject. Alas, the descriptions are florid, yet bone-dry. The society is technologically evolved, but in a magical fantastical sort of way that just isn't that interesting. There's no real plot of which to speak, just a long series of essays on aspects of a fictional society. I just couldn't get through it. Others may like it as an early example of this type of fiction, but I wanted something better. If only there was such an example...
It's difficult to believe that this book was written at the same time as
The Coming Race. Although there really isn't much plot here either, the delivery feels fresh, the language almost modern. I actually cared about the protagonist.
The society itself is a reversal of real-world society, for the purposes of satire. It's not really meant to represent a real alternative society. (The reversal goes to the extent of forming proper names by near-reversals of normal words and names.
Erewhon is nearly
nowhere in reverse.) As with the other example, the middle consists of essays. However, instead of being dry, they're lively and chuckle-worthy. Some of the targets of the satire flew by me. Either I'm not smart enough or the targets themselves are strictly of another time. (Most likely the former.) There's a wonderful trio of chapters detailing the dangers of technology. It's not far off from some of the concerns you hear today regarding artificial intelligence. The section on children is simply hilarious.
The plot aspects are wrapped up quickly at the end, mostly just as a means of getting the protagonist into a position to be able to hand over the narrative to the reader. Neither of these books are novels. They're essays wrapped in just enough plot to justify themselves.
I've always loved Ballard, but this is really a bit too much. Read one after the other, the stories reveal Ballard's weakness for always writing the same story too obviously to ignore. Take one male protagonist, representing Ballard, add in a bromance with a second charismatic character, add an optional female love interest. Shake in a dystopia until the two men have a falling out. Done!
That said, if you're a big fan, there's some tasty stuff in here, just don't try and read it straight through. Dip in here and there, jumping back out when it gets to be too much. If you're a casual fan, you can get the highlights in other collections.
This is the sequel to
All that said, it's well written and contains more in the way of big ideas than the first book.