When classic tech pisses off “new” tech

alphasmart.jpg

(Updated 11 Dec: see bottom of post)

In 2014 Astrohaus Kickstarted a “smart keyboard” called the Hemingwrite to the tune of nearly $350,000. Since then they released it onto the regular retail market, and it’s now called the Freewrite. 

Screenshot 2017-12-09 20.39.16.png

The Freewrite is a single-purpose, distraction-free writing tool. You type on a Cherry-MX mechanical keyboard, your words are displayed on a tiny e-ink screen, and you can upload your text to Dropbox or Google Drive via the Freewrite website. Because of the lack of features the Freewrite can last a month on one charge.

True, the Freewrite was hailed by some aspretentious hipster nonsense”, but while a couple of post-use reviews have indicated it’s a product better in the imagining than the using,  others have found it a useful tool for the easily distracted.

I am easily distracted. On many occasions I have gazed longingly at the Freewrite, but the US$499 price tag (plus $30 for a felt case) made this an impossible purchase.

Screenshot 2017-12-09 20.06.03.png

Astrohaus market the Freewrite as “the world’s first smart typewriter” but this is untrue. Because AlphaSmart.

Screenshot 2017-12-09 20.41.30.png

AlphaSmart (later Renaissance Learning, then NEO Direct) manufactured smart typewriters from 1993 to 2013. The units are lightweight portable word processors, with a tiny LCD screen. They run on 3x AA batteries, which will keep them going for 700 hours aka a bloody long time. And they let you write in a distraction-free environment because they can’t connect to the net. To transfer your text to your laptop you just plug in a USB cable. The most popular models are the Neo and the Neo2. Secondhand units run from $20-$50 on Amazon and eBay. AlphaSmart units have been successes with writers since long before the Freewrite, so the introduction of the Freewrite inevitably brought a screed of comparison articles, which basically said the AphaSmart and the Freewrite do the same thing, but one costs a monthly rent payment.

Because I couldn’t afford a Freewrite in this lifetime, I bought an AlphaSmart and I have never regretted it for a second. These things are rugged as hell and fit inside a standard laptop cover. So, all good, right? Astrohaus make a cool-looking aluminium smart typewriter with lovely keys for those with a lot of money. Second-hand AlphaSmart units get exactly the same job done but earn you no hipster points. Yay, consumer choice in a capitalist system.

Then yesterday Astrohaus announced a “buyback” where you send them your AlphaSmart, and they give you $50 off a Freewrite.

Screenshot 2017-12-09 19.48.20.png

Astrohaus know users compare the products, and they don’t like the results. So here’s what I want to know: what is Astrohaus doing with the AlphaSmart units they collect? Because I’m having Will It Blend visions.

AlphaSmarts are fucking awesome and a brilliant example of what tech can be: a sound, practical, rugged, incredibly versatile device that will function under the most adverse of conditions. This is literally a unit you could hand down to your kids.

Good scenario: Astrohaus donate the AlphaSmart units to communities and schools – particularly ones without consistent reliable power – to use for learning and creating.

Bad scenario: Astrohaus scraps the AlphaSmarts and removes a competitor from the consumption chain, one machine at a time.

Wow, the dark side of capitalist choice has never been so starkly illustrated.

I’ve asked Astrohaus on Twitter what they’re doing with the AlphaSmart units, as have others, but no response yet. Do me a favor? Tweet Astrohaus and ask them. If enough of us work together maybe we can get some useful tech donated to people who can use it. Because the alternative is pointless to everyone except Astrohaus.

Update 11 Dec:

I heard back from Astrohaus via Twitter.

Screenshot 2017-12-11 17.59.36

I find it difficult to believe donating them was their plan from the beginning: they would have partnered with someone, promoted this from the offset, and worked out the logistics of physically redistributing hundreds/thousands of units. But I’m glad that’s their plan now. Thanks to those who reached out to Astrohaus to get an answer on this.

Did you know I wrote manties?

M. Caspian stories are kind of dark. And no one wants to read, or write, dark 100% of the time. So one of my other pen names is A.L. Anderson. I have two books out under this name right now, but I have more planned for next year. These are traditional sugary sweet m/m romances with HEAs all round, and absolutely no one gets eaten alive by ants.

Grosgrain & Taffeta features manties and corsets. Originally it was going to be a series, and it still might, but I have a shit-ton of other stuff to finish first.

Amazon final cover Grosgrain.jpg

Cats Have Staff is a short lunch-break read, with—to state the obvious—a cat.

BarnesAndNoble-CatsHaveStaff.jpg

Going forward I’m going to link books by both author names on separate pages on this blog.

The last thirteen months have been really good for me, personally. Not having a full-time day job has definite down sides—like the lack of money—but I’ve been able to stop feeling like a fractured person. I’ve had a lot of family stress to cope with, but even so, I’m visibly healthier, and happier, and my blood pressure stopped completely freaking my doctor out. Moving to my new house in November will continue this journey into a whole life: simpler, and cheaper, but more meaningful and authentic. And as part of this I don’t want to fracture my writing self anymore either. Sometimes I want to write dark, and sometimes I just want the cute boy to end up with the other cute boy. They’re both me. Maybe you’ll like these books too.

 

 

 

 

ProWritingAid: Useful editing software

I’ve been using a product called ProWriting Aid and I’m a committed disciple.

One of my worst writing flaws is repeating the same phrase or word in quick succession. PWA tells me when I have thirty-three thrusting cocks in 11K words. Or 72 instances of “could.” Also somehow I end up with open quotes at the end of dialogue all the damn time. PWA tells me where. Alliteration? Holy shit, PWA just let me know I wrote, “firearms on a freighter from Florida.”

2976755407_d865cd672f_b.jpg
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

It will find cliches, both in and out of dialogue, and check your grammar. Apparently I cannot use a fucking comma to save my life.

Seriously, I’m in love.

You can set it for business or academic writing, if you’re not crafting fiction, and there’s options for US or UK English.

Many of the features are free to use. The Premium version costs USD$40 a year. I already went premium because this thing is a lifesaver. If you’re interested, there’s a 10% discount on ProWriting Aid Premium if you click this link. Full disclosure: I get an extra month for each person who signs up.

A pile of paper in disarray

I’m plotting out my current story. It’s an unholy mess. The paper outline, that is. The story makes more sense.

i have scraps of paper everywhere.jpg
Did you notice the swoopy desk the paper is lying on? I love my swoopy desk.

I’m just finishing up the James Patterson Masterclass. And no, I wouldn’t recommend it. I was swayed by a review that said it was worth it for the section on outlining alone. The section on outlining comprises the following:

Outlining: Do it.

Soooo, yeah. I’ve gotten a lot more out of Take Off Your Pants or Outlining Your Novel. But Patterson did say he writes in-depth 6-page outlines, and this time I’m attempting to do the same.

This is self-preservation, really. Last year Char nearly killed me. I have 100,000 words of excisions stored in a file. I wrote the damn thing three times with three different endings and it’s still not right. There’s a reason it’s only available as a freebie read on the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s website and not on Amazon or Smashwords.

This is the first time I’ve outlined a story in such detail. I get so excited about a story that I want to start. I have characters in my head nudging me with their bony elbows and giving me their lines of dialogue, and I need to put it down on paper before the recollection fades. I always know how a story will end. That’s the first thing I learn about a story. And I know how it starts. I know the plot. But I don’t always *coughevercough* have the fine detail nailed down. Like all the scenes. Or how they will link together. Or exactly how I get from the beginning to the climax. And I screwed up so bad with Char, I nearly quit writing. I still feel such despair about fucking up. I’m going to return to that eventually and fix it. I can’t live with myself if I don’t.

So this time I’m outlining every scene, pulling it all together, nailing down the tone, the emotion I want each scene to convey, trying to add more suspense, more excitement, more to hook the reader from one chapter to the next. It should be possible to read the outline through and have it flow like a complete – if abridged – story. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated, but I’m assuming this will help me cut down considerably on composition? I hope?

And paper helps. I don’t know why. I have a bunch of digital tools I can use too; Scapple – which I adore – Scrivener of course, even just a herd of  Ant Notes clustered on my desktop helps sometimes. But there’s something about being able to see the whole thing laid out in front of me that achieves more than looking through a window onto a small section of a neatly arranged digital storyboard.

So far it’s working for me, although there’s no way of knowing for sure until I finish the story. Eventually, I guess, you guys will tell me if it worked. Wish me luck.

One Task October

Derek Finch - a tale of two storms.jpg
A Tale of Two Storms by Derek Finch on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

We’ve had a storm here for the last four days. It kind of matched my mood. For reasons, September was much less productive than it should have been. I don’t want to even tell you my word count, because it sucked. I got really stuck on one of the two short stories I wrote for the Goodreads BDSM Group’s Kink in Ink event. It shouldn’t have taken a month to write fewer than 7,000 words, and yet this is a thing that happened.

One of those reasons was having my left upper back molar give up the ghost against a vicious bacterial infection and make me feel like my face was being hit with a sledgehammer for a week. It’s dead now. The tooth, not my face. I ended up having to get a root canal. Whee! I totally could not afford that, but at least the drugs were good.

Andres Rueda, Syeringe with Blue liquid, flickr.jpg
It was the first time I haven’t cried at the dentist, thanks to a traumatic childhood extraction of my four eye teeth with no anaesthetic. Photo by Andres Rueda on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

And at least both stories are finished now. One is m/m gun play, and the other is m/f. M/f , you say? I know, right?  All feedback will be appreciated, because it’s a newish thing for me. I have an m/f romance novella on Amazon too (not as M. Caspian), but no-one has reviewed it (barely anyone has read it). I’ll let you know when the stories are released. Initially you’d have to join the BDSM group to read them, but I’m going to put them both out on Amazon in December. I’m thinking of doing a book of short stories. I have the prequel to Arroyo in rough draft, so maybe that would be good motivation to polish it up.

So my goal for October is to be much more focused and productive. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has a great list of strategies to help with focus.The most important – at least, the one I need to work on the most – is:

  • Get going on your task. Do nothing but that one task. Don’t switch to another task.

I switch tasks a lot (hence why I have to write down the task I’m supposed to be doing at any one time.) If I don’t keep rigid focus I shake myself from an internet daze and discover I’m researching the history of Saint Benedict (this happened today and derailed me for an hour).

But getting sidetracked is nothing compared to my biggest flaw: listening to YouTube Let’s Plays while I work. As I write this I’m listening to Morphologis play Osiris: New Dawn (which, frankly, is the game No Man’s Sky should have been. Sandworms, people, sandworms! And giant arachnoids!)

So I’m making October “One Task October.” I have way more than one project underway, but I’m going to pay attention to my focus, and just work on one project at a time, and only work on that one project while I do it. And not listen to You Tube AT ALL (I’m allowed to finish listening to New Dawn first, though, right? Please?) And I’m committing to this in front of y’all so if I do not have new books out before the end of the year I need for you to chastise me.

Have you got any hints for keeping my flitting brain on task?

 

Focus

steve wilson flickr CC lic A study in concentration copy.jpg
Photo by Steve Wilson on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

One of the (many) things I have never understood about the workplace is why co-workers break into one’s concentration for the ritual exchange of social pleasantries.

My desk used to be next to a main thoroughfare, although behind a partition. At least three times a day perfectly nice people would stop by to say, “How you going?”

Because I’m pretty good at working on one thing at a time, and I work with earbuds in, I’d be riveted to my Excel spreadsheet and I usually wouldn’t notice them. People would literally wave their hand between my face and the computer screen, wait for me to take my earbuds out, and then say, “Hey, working pretty hard there, huh?” or “Any exciting plans for the weekend?” or, commonly,”Wow, you have zero peripheral vision.”

The very best thing about being unemployed is being allowed to do one thing in a solid chunk and no one interrupting me. I have written 23,579 words for August so far. I can sit at my desk for a four hour block (with regular OOS exercises and stretching breaks, of course) and Get Shit Done. I’m hoping as my writing muscles get more exercise I will increase my rate of output.

I have died and gone to heaven.