Sometimes It’s an Analog Problem

For the past few days, I’ve been having really bad audio playback problems on my desktop computer – sounds dropping out, sounds being fuzzy, dialogue on videos suddenly becoming harder to follow.  Because we’d just had a fairly large Windows 10 update, and because I’d just said “The hell with waiting for the bad news, I’m going to switch over to the Firefox 57 Beta now,” I went about searching for a cure for the problem in my Firefox and Windows setups, to no avail.

Then this afternoon I finally wised up, and bethought myself of the maxim that when in doubt, one should always switch in a known good piece of hardware and see if the problem persists.  So I dug out my emergency earbuds (I hate earbuds, so I never use them unless I have to; earmuff-style headphones suit me much better, and keep my ears warm in winter to boot) and unplugged my headphones – whereupon I got a good look at the headphone jack for the first time in a couple of weeks.

And lo, the jack was visibly bent several degrees off true.

I blame the cats, who are in the annoying habit of leaping from the top of my desk to the floor and catching the headphone cord with their hind legs on the way.  I will have to buy a new pair of earmuff headphones this afternoon, and I can see a pair of cordless bluetooth headphones in my future as well.  (I can cheap out on regular wired headphones, because they all break eventually and don’t really get much sturdier until you get into the $100-and-up range, but the wireless ones don’t have anything like the battery life I’d need until they’re well into not-cheap territory.  Also, my desktop computer is sufficiently elderly that I’ll also have to throw in a bluetooth adapter to make it work.)

Anyhow – I plugged in the earbuds, and gave the sound another try.

Yep.  Dead jack on the old headphones was the problem source.

So.  Immediate solution:  earbuds.  Short-term solution: new headphones.  Medium-term solution: wireless headphones+bluetooth adapter.  Long-term solution: New desktop computer.

It’s always nice to have a path mapped out.

Another Sign of the Changing Times

Our printer died the other day, somewhat to our surprise. It was an HP Deskjet 6940 — in other words, a fairly sturdy office model — and it really shouldn’t have reacted so badly to having been taken for a car ride to Peabody, Massachusetts, and back again.  But react badly it did; once reconnected to our household setup, it steadfastly refused to communicate with the desktop computer.

We did all the usual things to confirm its defunct state:  We switched in a known good USB cable, to make certain it wasn’t the cable, and it didn’t work; we switched in an old but working college printer left behind by one of our various offspring, and it did work, to the extent that it would install and communicate with the desktop computer (it had paper take-up issues, and its ink cartridges were several years old, so it wasn’t good for anything other than diagnostic purposes); we ran all the troubleshooters and checked for updated drivers; all to no avail.

It was time, we admitted, to go printer shopping, and so we did.  I wound up ordering a refurbished Kodak Verite 55 from New Egg; I’ve had good luck with their refurbished stuff before.  Also, the printer in question was on sale that week for $34.99, which meant that even if it turned out to be a dud, I wouldn’t be weeping hot tears over its demise.  Nor would I feel unduly guilty if we decided at some more wealthy point to upgrade to a more expensive model.

The printer in question is low-end enough that by the time we’ve gone through a couple of replacement ink cartridges, we’ll have spent more on ink than on the machine itself.   (It’s the “don’t make your money selling razors; make your money selling razor blades” principle, I suppose.)  But it doesn’t matter.  We don’t actually need an iron-thewed workhorse of an office printer that can do 600-plus pages in an afternoon without breaking down, because it’s been over a decade since we last submitted a novel in hardcopy form.

It’s all electronic now, and I don’t miss it a bit — not the wrestling with a stack of loose paper that wants to slump over into an uncollated pile; not the necessity of keeping an eagle eye on the printing process to make certain that no blank pages or skipped pages get through; not the wrestling with paper jams or the inevitable discovery at page 550 that you’re out of ink and the nearest Staples is an hour and a half away and already closed for the night.

Other people can wax nostalgic over their old-school office-quality printers†, or their IBM Selectrics or their Smith-Coronas, or their one true fountain pen, or their perfectly-trimmed goose quill, but not me.

In this case, at least, technology is my friend.


Okay, I’ll admit to looking back at my first Epson MX-80 dot-matrix with fond remembrance; that printer was built like a tank, and survived both a transcontinental move and an international move without failing, and was our printer of choice for first drafts for a long time after that.

Consider This an Unsolicited Recommendation

I have successfully obtained a refund for a piece of software that was on the netbook I don’t use any more. I had thought that when I purchased a year’s subscription that I would get a notification when it was time to renew, and would then need to do so manually . . . but no, it was an automatic thing, and the transaction went through about a week before Boskone, and nearly threw a monkey wrench into the works for that expedition.

I don’t like automatic updates. If my computer is going to change something or add something, I want to be present for the occasion so I can flip the switch myself.

The subscription charge was substantial enough that I went to the trouble of looking up the refund procedure, which – much to my surprise – turned out to be relatively painless and not to require actually talking to anyone at any point. So kudos to AVG PC Tune-Up, which I still have on all my working machines, for being prompt and efficient about the whole thing.

Neophilia

Which is to say, I’ve upgraded my desktop system to Windows 10 and – so far, anyhow – nothing vital has either exploded or disappeared into the ether.

I did take good advice, though, and didn’t use the “Express” setup option, because it defaults to sharing everything with everyone everywhere, which is a stupid thing to default to, but it wouldn’t be a Windows operating system without at least one stupid default.

(And no, I don’t want to switch to the Apple side of the force.  There are people for whom the Mac/iWhatever interface is deft and intuitive, and there are people for whom it is intensely frustrating, and I’m one of the latter. )

So now I’m checking to make sure all of my previously installed apps are still working as advertised, this post being a test of Windows Live Writer.  If you’re reading these words, then presumably Live Writer tested sat.

Now I’ve Heard Everything

Among the other things I did over the past weekend, in addition to having a lovely time at the Arisia sf/fantasy convention,* was to purchase a tablet to replace my color Nook. Why? (Other than sheer neophilia, that is.)  To make a long story short – Intuit finally came out with a mobile Quicken app to sync with the desktop version, which is something I’ve been missing ever since Intuit yanked the license to make Pocket Quicken away from Landware.  And my husband/co-author was on board with the idea because it would mean that I could use the tablet’s camera to take videos of him doing stage magic.

So I picked up a refurbished Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7-incher from NewEgg, and then I went looking on line for a cover.

And that’s when I discovered that none of the online dealers in mobile accessories are talking about artificial or fake leather any more.

No – their products are made of “vegan leather.”

* The guy who usually cosplays on stilts was in fine form this year . . . he came as Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy.

 

It’s That Time of Year Again

Yes . . . it’s my sporadically-recurring post in which I wave my hands and point to the “Editorial and Critique Services” bit of this blog’s title, and to the About and Editorial Services links on this page.  (Click on either one; the content is about the same either way.  The salient details certainly are.)

Short version:  One of the ways I keep the electricity and the internet running around this place is with freelance editorial and critique work.  If you’ve got a short story or a novel that you’d like to spruce up for submission or for self-publication, or that you’d like to make better for some other reason (including the learning experience), then I’m available to help you out.

My base rates:  $1500 for a standard 80,000-100,000 word novel; $100 for a short story or the first chapter/first 5000 words of a novel.  Rates for odd lengths – novellas, extra-long novels – are negotiable.  Also, if you go for the first-chapter deal on a novel, and then decide you want the whole enchilada, you get $100 off on the novel fee.

A Handy Trick

Naming characters is always a hassle – I can’t get mine to settle properly in my head until they’ve been correctly bemonickered – and most writers have their favorite resources for the job.  Baby name books and web sites are always good, especially for tales set in contemporary consensus reality, and if your interest is more historical, sites like the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names page will let you search for popular American names by decade going back as far as the 1880s.  I’m sure that other countries have similar resources; the SSA page just happens to be the one I know about firsthand.

If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, though, you’ve got problems.  Good science-fictional names, if you’re going to put some thought into them, are part of the worldbuilding:  You have to make some complex calculations about the probable ethnic makeup of your future society, for example, and about possible changes in naming styles (the all-whitebread science-fictional future is, if not yet completely dead, definitely moribund, and a good thing, too; and while it’s not likely that we’re ever going to see a resurgence of multi-word Puritan-style virtue names of the Praise-God Barebones variety, there’s always the off-chance that some future society may produce dimpled tots named Respect-for-the-Rights-of-Others Herrera or Earth-is-not-the-Only-Planet Jones.)

But if you’re writing fantasy, at least of the pseudo-western-medieval variety, there’s at least one good cheap trick out there:   Grab a copy of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, or Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and steal from there.  Go right past all the too-familiar major characters, and head for the ranks of (sometimes literal) spear-carriers, of which there are a good plenty.  This will give you lots of names which look vaguely western-medieval without belonging to any specific name-hoard, and which can usually be sounded out and pronounced by the average reader.

Environmental Change

By which I mean, I have acquired a new desk chair and I have rearranged the layout of my desk.

The new chair was a necessity.  My previous desk chair gave me many years of loyal service, but over the past month or so it had developed a forward tilt and a sideways list, making it uncomfortable to sit in.

The new desk layout sprang primarily from a desire to have my monitor not be in a position where I had to crane my neck slightly upward to look at it.  That placement was a holdover from the days of CRT monitors, which were as long or longer from front to back as they were from side to side.  The lower side of my desk wasn’t built to hold an object of that size.  As for the rest of the desk – let’s just say that back in the year when we bought it, the ergonomics of computer use were far from well-understood.

Also, the damned thing is so sturdy I probably couldn’t break it if I whaled away at it with a sledge hammer for a week.

It’s Been Cold.

I blame this year’s March weather for my laggardliness in posting new stuff.  Normally, by this time of year we’re already in the segue from winter to mud-time (which I used to think was a season invented by Robert Frost for poetic purposes, and then I moved up here); this year, we’ve had nights in the double-digits below zero Fahrenheit as recently as this past week, and the snow is still two feet deep in the front yard.

It makes it hard to work up energy for anything beyond the absolutely necessary, so it does.

One thing I did accomplish, though, because it didn’t require anything much beyond shifting some pixels around:  I took advantage of Google Drive’s recent lowering of prices for extra storage to pick up the 100-gigabytes-for-$1.99/month deal, and then spent a couple of days backing up my photo and image files to the cloud.

Backing up text is easy – text is compact. If you don’t have your working files saved in two or three different places (two different drives and at least one offsite backup is a good minimum), then you’re courting disaster.  Image files, though, and video and audio files, those are big.  They take up lots of room on any physical media you might want to store them on, and they transfer from one medium to another at a crawl.  Which is why up until a couple of days ago I had my image files stored in the virtual equivalent of a single shoebox.

Now, at least, I’ve got them stored in a couple of shoeboxes, and one of the boxes is on a shelf in somebody else’s house.