Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Blah-Blah Regarding My Chromebook (Not Quite a Review)

I love my Chromebook. I am irked by my Chromebook.

But overall, I think I'll keep 'im.

First a paragraph of random trivia: I ended up with an Acer R11 Chromebook rather than an Asus Flip. Costco had a really good sale going on the Acer just before Christmas. Like the Asus Flip, the R11 is a convertible: the screen folds back for use as a sort of tablet, which appealed to me for sheet music and PDFs and movies.


It's a little tall and skinny for displaying chord sheets and sheet music, but works pretty well!

It isn't as sleek as the Asus Flip. It doesn't scream "classy." It looks like...a clunky white plastic slab. However, it's a little larger than the Asus (11.6" screen) and has a normal sized, very comfortable keyboard. And I liked the peace of mind of having a Costco guarantee, since the whole Chromebook concept is a new one to me. It also has a little more local storage (32GB) and an Intel processor, should I decide I want to play with Linux at a later date.

There are definite pluses to Chrome OS. For one thing, I already have an Android phone and use the Chrome browser on other computers, and as soon as I logged in, I instantly had all my bookmarks and browser extensions and access to all my Google Drive documents. I did a power wash (basically a factory reset) at one point in the last week, and pretty much lost nothing. Usually switching from one computer to another takes me weeks of tweaking, but there are very few local settings on a Chromebook, so the experience remains just about the same no matter what once you log in. You can upgrade to a new Chromebook, wipe a current one, or just use Chrome elsewhere, and changes sync (mostly) seamlessly.

However, I'm running into a few frustrating issues. Not all can be blamed on the Chromebook itself, but they're there nonetheless.

First of all, one of the primary reasons I bought it was so I'd have an inexpensive, durable, long-batteried laptop to lug to the coffee shop I frequently go to in the mornings. However, as I discovered the very first time I brought it along, Chromebooks can be a little picky about wi-fi. When I tried to connect, I got an error that said "network out of range." This despite the fact that other devices (my phone or my other laptop) connected without issue.

I did a bunch of online research. It appears this is not an entirely uncommon problem. Unfortunately, the advice mostly amounted to making changes to the router--not an option for me.

I've connected once over the last few weeks (presumably the router was reset and worked for awhile), but the rest of the time, the error comes up every time I'm there.

Second issue: Google Docs should work more or less the same off-line as off, though of course won't sync changes until next time you connect. And I have been able to edit existing documents without much trouble.

Creating documents off-line, however, gets a little weird.

For example, the other day at the coffee shop, I couldn't get the connection to work again. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just write offline and sync when I get to work."

So I did. I wrote and edited a short blog article (about 500 words). The top of the screen in Docs said "All changes saved offline." Feeling accomplished, I closed it out, closed up the Chromebook, and headed to work.

At work, I opened up the Chromebook and found...nothing. According to it, I hadn't touched any documents since yesterday. RAGE...RISING.

I thought maybe this was a fluke, that maybe I'd imagined the message saying everything was saved, or that I'd done something wrong. So I tried creating additional documents offline. Same deal. Docs would say it saved my changes. The document would (apparently) vanish into the ether as soon as the document was closed. Sadness would descend.

What I ultimately discovered was that my documents were there (PHEW!), but (aggravatingly) invisible until I'd been connected to a wireless source for an undetermined interval, whereupon they'd magically appear. Perplexing.

For the time being, I created some blank documents named Offline 1-3 to use when I'm just creating blocks of text to be applied elsewhere, since existing documents sync instantly. This also allows me to reopen documents offline. But I don't like this. Hopefully it's something that will be improved upon in the future.

I haven't really, deeply put the little guy through its paces in other realms, but I have used it for displaying recipes while standing tent-fashion on the kitchen counter (soooo much better than trying to read stuff off my phone), and for watching TV while on the exercise bike.


Musician fancy gym bike...

For those purposes, it works like a champ.

I'm not necessarily getting the 10 hrs of battery life billed in the specs, but I didn't really expect that. I can use it at the coffee shop, watch a few YouTube videos during lunch, spend some time surfing when I get home and watch a show while on the exercise bike and still have plenty of battery to spare, and that's good enough for me. My unscientific estimate would be something near 8 hrs.

PROS:

  • Relatively lightweight
  • Rugged
  • Cheap, at least compared to a "real" laptop, or a tablet and keyboard combo (about $250)
  • Works adequately as a tablet for recipes, PDFs, movies while exercising, sheet music. It doesn't have a fancy retina screen, but the screen is a decently bright IPS panel. It will do.
  • Easy access to Google documents, which is about all I need for creating first drafts
  • Great keyboard, springy and nicely spaced

CONS:

  • Not as lightweight as the models I'd originally looked at, making it awkward to use as a handheld tablet on the couch or in bed
  • Pretty ugly compared to the competition (though it's almost so ugly it's endearing)
  • Screen is just OK
  • ANNOYING wi-fi issues
  • ANNOYING off-line document creation weirdness

Despite the cons, I think it's a keeper. I shall plaster stickers on it soon. Bwahahah.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Welp, I Ordered Me a Chromebook


A surprisingly hard act to follow!

Some personal history: although I've traditionally written a goodly portion of first drafts by hand (speaking primarily of fiction here), once I get the ball rolling it's nice to have the speed of a keyboard--not to mention it's nice not to have to do quite as much double work, reentering all the text.

On the other hand, I have the attention span of a gnat, and a fully capable large screened computer offers many distractions. Also, having my text all spread out on a big screen a) makes it feel like I'm filling a water tower one drop at a time and b) makes me inclined to endless editing, since I can scan back through bunches of text at once and find fault with it. I compose most of my blog posts in a small Notepad window on my big screen, but that's not really practical for longer work.

Several years back, I discovered and fell in love with Renaissance Learning's Alphasmart word processors, specifically the Neo. They were rugged, their battery life could be measured in months or even years, they displayed just a few lines of text at a time, and they had a great keyboard. Basically, they were a miniature portable typewriter that saved to memory instead of paper. They only did one thing, but they did it well. I've loved mine. However, there are a few caveats: first of all, getting text from the device to the computer can be fairly time consuming and requires cables. I loathe cables. I lose cables. Secondly, the thing looks like a business class Speak and Spell. I never got truly comfortable with using it out in the public eye.

For some time, I've been longing for an Alphasmart successor: a simple, highly portable, unpretentious device which would allow me to create documents and sync them wirelessly.

I briefly owned a lipstick pink Samsung netbook and still remember it with fondness--I wrote a ridiculous number of short stories on that thing--but it was so slow, especially when booting up, and backing up my documents or syncing the between computers took a bit of thought. It was close, but no cigar.

A few years ago, Chromebooks began to pop up. I was mildly intrigued. Google has been a friend of mine since the days of invite-only G-mail and I already had quite a few documents in the Google eco-system. However, at the time, Chromebooks didn't really have any off-line capability (though I'm usually connected, I'd like that now and again), and were almost a public beta. I liked the concept, but didn't feel like they were ready for prime time.

The current crop feels a lot more polished to me, and I've decided to take the leap. I ordered an Asus Flip C100. This device is part tablet as well as part mini-laptop. The keyboard is small, but actually a bit bigger than the netbook of old, so I'm not too worried. It only has a 10.1 inch screen (tablet sized), but it's a nice bright IPS panel, and although 1200x800 is low for a tablet, it's better than the old netbook. I think it'll be very comfortable.

On top of all that, it has a touch screen, and if you flip the keyboard back, you can use it as a tablet. Granted, Chrome OS isn't really optimized for touch right now, and the screen is no iPad Retina thing, but my primary use case would be browsing or looking at PDFs, and I think it will be just fine for that.

You can also stand it up tent style, or flip the keyboard back far enough to use as a stand for watching movies (Netflix and Amazon Prime should both work) or displaying recipes. That covers just about everything I'd like to be able to do with a small portable device. Document editing comes above all, but I've never owned a tablet and, while I'm not expecting anything like iPad performance, I'm intrigued by the possibilities.

It should be here sometime in the next week. More thoughts once I've had a chance to incorporate it into my workflow. It could be the perfect first draft machine--if I can avoid the siren call of other Chrome tabs. The little guy only weighs about two pounds and will fit easily in my writing bag for coffee shop trips and lunch breaks. Best of all, whatever I type will instantly be available from my other computers.

A bonus: this is childish, but I've always kind of wanted to put stickers all over a computer, but have never had one I felt I could decorate like that. I am *so* gonna sticker this little thing once the brand new wears off.

Anyway, I'm tentatively excited.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Tracking Inks and Pen Rotation

Quick and dirty blog post based on a momentary Twitter discussion re: keeping track of fountain pens. If you're a nice logical person who keeps one or two pens inked with the same inks all the time, this does not apply. If, like me, you occasionally find yourself with six or seven or...um...nine, you may need a memory jogger for what's in what, especially if you bought samples of eleventy billion dark blues that are all very subtly different.


So this is my method. It's not fancy. If I get fancy, I fall behind, so I save notes on what I like or dislike about inks for my journals or blog posts.

As you can see, I'm rather fond of that Orange Safari. And even in a lousy nighttime photo, isn't the Cactus Fruit cool?

Anyone else log what inks they're using? How do you go about it?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Three Inks: Terre de Feu, Cactus Fruit, Scabiosa

As I'm going through these Goulet Pens ink samples, I thought I'd toss out a few little mini-reviews! So here you go. My opinions only, and your mileage may vary.

1. J. Herbin Terre de Feu

I really, really wanted to like this ink. In a very wet writer, I think it'd be quite nice, and it does have interesting shading. However, like many J. Herbin inks, I find it too dry for my tastes, and not saturated enough. In a less than fire-hose-ish pen, it comes out a pale pinkish brownish orange, which just doesn't appeal to me.

Ruled out.

2. Noodler's Cactus Fruit Eel

This is an ink I like more than I should probably admit. I mean, it is BRIGHT. Obnoxiously bright. It is not really a "grown up" color. But ooh, so cheery! It isn't a super duper match for more absorbent papers (the "eel" lubrication factor, which is supposed to make pistons work a bit better, seems to make ink spread and feather a bit more than standard), but it is a pleasure to write with.

This one goes on my wish list.

3. Rohrer and Klingner Scabiosa

Scabiosa sounds gross, no? But it actually just means honeysuckle. What a difference a language makes. This is another ink I wanted to like: it has an iron gall component, which makes it somewhat water and fade resistant, and in the right pen, it might be kind of nice. However, in my fairly dry-writing modern converter pens, it felt...like writing with a toothpick. *shudder* And the color ends up being a pale imitation of itself. I think. Reviews of this ink vary so much, I'm not completely sure what color it actually is--I expected a dusty purple, but it looks more...pinkish grey.

Ruled out.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ink fest!

There's one benefit to at least starting NaNoWriMo this year: it got me back to writing by hand, which a) I enjoy and which b) seems to jog my creativity a little, or at least gives me a longing for creativity, which is sometimes the key to finding it again.

This is maybe a third to a half of the full stash...

I still have more fountain pens than any one person needs. At least they're small! At the moment, I've been leaning toward the cartridge converters, partly because they're often simpler to maintain, and partly because...well. Let me tell you.

Back when I first discovered Goulet Pens and their ink samples, I ordered about a billion* ink samples. Because, hey, I could! And look at all the pretty colors! And then life got in the way and I used pencils a lot for awhile there and I pretty much forgot about the ink samples until I moved, and then realized I still had about a billion* minus four.

So this has been a month of playing with inks again, primarily in my Pilot Metropolitan and the Lamy Safaris, since they're cheerful and easy to clean out. I've only actually emptied a few vials, but it's a start.

Empties!

Of course, now I want a bottle of Noodler's Cactus Fruit Eel (it's so bright and happy!) and a bottle of Waterman Tender Purple and a bottle of...

But not until I've used up at least half a billion more vials, I think.

*slight exaggeration

Edited to add: here's a post with a bit of info about how I get ink into my pens! 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NaNoWriMo Halt.


Aaaand, I'm out. I might make 25k this year. Or I might just set it all aside.

I knew it wasn't going to be an easy year. I'm still getting settled in the new house, work is kicking my behind and brain, and I had no time to think ahead during September and October. I'm a pantser as a general rule, but that doesn't mean I don't daydream a bit before beginning. I have some feel for my characters, and how they'll act/react. I've wandered my settings a little bit. I kind of know where I'm starting and finishing. This year, I didn't really get to that point.

And I'll be honest: for the last three or four months, I've been in a phase where it feels like either I've already done all the good writing I'll ever do, or else that any good writing I've ever done was a fluke, a freak, a chance happenstance, and I'm not capable of true creativity. Also struggling because let's face it, I've done very few Big Exciting Things in life, and if we're only allowed to write what we know, who will ever want to read what I write?

Pretty sure we've all been there. Probably more than once. Doesn't make it feel any less real.

I had hopes this year's NaNoWriMo would pluck me out of that slump. I hoped magical things would happen. Instead, I felt like all my words were childish and cardboard-y, and started to dread writing sessions.

So I stepped back for awhile. I haven't really added to my count for about a week.

The other night I dreamed about my Alphasmart Neo--a device I admit I've not used much for several years, and which I've been considering replacing with a tablet or Chromebook. In the dream, I was at some sort of bluegrass festival by the edge of a salt water bay, and some of us did some hiking and canoeing in between talking and making music.

Over the course of the dream, I dropped my Alphasmart in the water three times. Three times I watched it begin to sink. Three times, I shrieked and dived in after it, pulling it out just in time.

Which, maybe, means I still want to write, somewhere deep inside?

Or maybe I'm just feeling guilty about dumping it. Don't really know.

In any case, this year is a miss. I still have ten completed NaNoWriMos under my belt, so I can't beat myself up *too* much. But I'm disappointed all the same.

Monday, November 02, 2015

NaNoWriMo Go!

And boom,NaNoWriMo has begun!

I spent September buying a house and moving out of my rental, and I've spent October trying to unpack and move in and make it pretty, so I've had no time to plan and have almost no idea what I'm going to write. I'm taking a stab at a sort of light fantasy take on moving to a new home, since I don't think I'm up for much else.

And because I'm currently in fountain pen mode (the pendulum swings a bit, as you may have observed), I'm writing by hand again. So far the pen and ink line up is as follows:

  • Lamy Safari (Green) - J. Herbin Lie de The (sample)
  • Waterman Phileas - PR Lake Placid Blue
  • Lamy Safari (Orange) - Waterman Tender Purple (sample)(still don't like the new ink names, Waterman!)
  • Pilot Custom 74 - Pilot Iroshizuki Kon-Peki (cerulean blue)
  • TWSBI 530 - Diamine Majestic Blue
  • Pilot Vanishing Point Twilight (the most beautiful pen EVAR) - Iroshizuku Tsuki-Yo ("moonlight" blue)

I like to switch color every page or so during a long writing session, as well as at the beginning of the day. It's good motivation (makes it easier to see how much I've written in a sitting), and this should give me enough variety to keep things fun. All of these are good workhorse pens and relatively trouble-free inks. I'm a little heavy on the blues--may switch one out for a green next time a pen comes up empty.

I wrote eleven pages (comp book sized, but college ruled!) yesterday. Still got it. Now if I can just keep it up for thirty days straight...

Monday, March 09, 2015

How I Journal, Part 1: Record and Rant

This is, in part, an answer to a question on a recent blog entry: "So do you go back and revisit them [journals] or do you leave that to your eventual biographers and grad students trying to deconstruct your writings?"

Biographers--ha. Right.

Currently, I actually keep a few different notebooks I guess you could call journals. One (generally a smaller one, and the one recently up for replacement as another was filled) I use for recording mostly facts and events. For example, yesterday's entry would look something like this: "Daylight Saving Time--ugh. 'Slept in' until about seven. Cold when I got up--30-ish. Spent the morning continuing to obsess about guitar. Working on an arrangement of "Star of the County Down," hopefully ready to record next weekend--making videos may help me w/ performance anxiety, so I'm going to start doing that regularly. Went to 11:30AM Mass, then to Jay's Farmstand for a boatload of vegetables. Watching that old video of myself yesterday reminded me how out of shape I've gotten, especially in the last six months, and it's time to work on that. M called and talked for awhile, mostly about..." Etc.

The other notebook, I use for morning pages, exploring ideas, and whining. For example, yesterday's entry in there could look something like this: "Daylight Saving Time, Daylight Saving Time, Daylight Saving Time. I hate it. It's so stoooopid. From what I understand, it was originally done for farmers--as if yanking an hour from the beginning of the day and stapling it to the end actually makes the day longer, and as if they wouldn't just work with the light without caring about the time. The critters were happy to be fed an hour earlier, but man..." Etc.

The first type of notebooks get filed away for reference--it's kind of fun to check what I did a year ago today, for example, or read over notes from a trip. My other notebook often yields blogging ideas or story seeds, but once those are separated out, the rest is really so much chaff. I've taken to just recycling them.

It hasn't always been this way. I used to combine everything in one journal: events, dreams, rants and whines and wonderings. I do refer back to those at times, but having to comb through a zillion pages of what-worried-me-most-just-then in order to find one small note about my brother officially announcing they were expecting their second child...it gets old.

And frankly, those older journals make me a little nervous, just because they get awfully soul-baring at times, and I'm not sure I want anyone poking through them, now or later. I've thought about just junking them...but it *is* nice to have a record of when things happened, and at least some of my thoughts at the time. I toy with the idea of going back through and parsing out facts where I can, writing those down in another notebook, but I haven't yet made a project of it.

I'm not sure my current method will be the one for the ages, but it's working for the time being. Bonus: excuses to have more notebooks going at once!

Part 2 will discuss how I deal with keeping a journal when I'm too busy to keep a journal, and why this means I'm allowed to have yet another notebook.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Eternal Notebook Questions



For those of us who have the bad habit of continually buying blank books, is there anything tougher than picking which one to use next?

Do I go with the Rite in the Rain, thus restricting myself to pencil or ballpoint?

Composition book?

A gift journal with slightly iffy paper?

My very last Moleskine?

It's about the most first world of first world problems, but ARGH.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Renaissance Art Leather Passport Sized Journal (and Scout Books!)

I'm a big fan of Renaissance Art's work. I have two of their composition book covers, one purchased back when it was a custom item (see my review here), and another purchased later, when they started making them as a regular item.

They are both beautiful, and have held up well. They're not for those who like their leather goods to look machine stamped, but for those who like a rustic, hard-working sort of cowboy/ancient times hybrid look, these are great.

A few weeks ago, Renaissance Art did an amazing thing. They basically *gave* away examples of their "passport" sized notebooks, for about the price of shipping, to get examples of their work out to anyone who was curious. They didn't request that we write reviews, though they always welcome feedback (and act on it, which is pretty awesome). I'm just excited enough to throw one out there of my own accord.

Turquoise--so pretty!

It is, like my big notebooks, beautiful, thick leather. It holds two passport sized notebooks (more on that in a moment), or a passport and a notebook, for the true travelers out there, or two passports, for the Jason Bournes out there (though if you're going to carry several at once, you may want to be careful where you leave 'em). The way it works: there's a doubled cord that runs through the middle and pulls through the decorative woven tube thingie on the side. You pull the cord back enough to loosen it, open one of your notebooks to the halfway section, and slip it under the cord. Then you pull the cord back through to tighten.


There's a video at the bottom of the product page on RA's site, if any of that didn't make sense. It works remarkably well, considering how simple it is. I'm guessing the white cord may get a little grubby with time, and over a whole LOT of time, it could wear out, but I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon. It's sturdy stuff.

There are stitched pockets inside the front and back covers, big enough for folded receipts or business cards or other odds and ends.


It comes with one of Renaissance Art's blank notebook refills: heavy, hand torn paper with a simple linen cover. These are pretty rough around the edges because of the hand tearing, and don't have punched corners. They're also nicer (in my opinion) for writing or sketching with pencil rather than writing with fountain pen, as the standard paper (you *can* request other stuff) is pretty toothy.


I like it and will use it, but I will probably replace with my own refills after. Which brings me to a cool discovery.

When I was originally waiting for this to arrive, I had it in my head that it would be big enough to hold Field Notes and Moleskine cahiers. For some reason, that's about how big I thought "passport" meant. If I'd actually looked at my passport for two seconds, I'd have seen I was wrong, but I didn't.
When I first took this out of the envelope, I was disappointed. It's considerably shorter than a Field Notes notebook, so I figured I'd either have to order refills only from Renaissance Art, or learn to make my own refills--something I do want to do, at some point.

But then last night, it hit me: Scout Books are 3.5"x5 size! I thought just maybe that would work, and boom, yeah, they're perfect for one another! Which is awesome, really, because I really like Scout Books, and there aren't many covers out there that fit them well.


There isn't a huge amount of overhang on the cover's part, which is fine by me, but I figured I should point it out. It's just about flush.


So yeah, I got me a really beautiful little cover for carrying around a couple of Scout Books. And it's the same great leather I'd already loved, in a more fondle-able size. I may be buying more of these as gifts for other notebook lovers in my life.