Mar 31

Assorted Pains in the Ass

Two major ones, actually. First, the figurative one.

I just finished our taxes. You do NOT want to know what I’m thinking. You do NOT want to hear what I’m saying,

My attitude about income taxes gets worse every year. That may be because the percentage of our income that goes to pay the damned things gets a little higher every year. Slowly but surely, we are being taxed into bankruptcy. The Social Security crisis won’t matter to us because we’ll be so far behind on our income taxes by then that we won’t be able to retire.

A little hyperbole, but it goes to the witness’s state of mind. I do often consider, this time of year, a grand, glorious, even laudable, but ultimately doomed and futile gesture of some sort. Too bad they made it illegal to send them a shirt,

Now to get literal. Hide your eyes if you’re squeamish.

I am going in to have a colonoscopy on Friday morning. Nothing serious, just checking. It’s just one of the ways that aging is not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, I get to spend all day Thursday on the infamous clear liquid diet (I really HATE green and yellow Jell-O!!!), which will play all kinds of Hell with my blood sugar. Then I get to spend all day Friday in Loopy-Land as a reward. Prostate checks are one thing, but this is totally uncalled for.

On a much more positive note, we plan on going into Macon on Saturday to the Cherry Blossom Festival. They have tigers, No, really! Real tigers! Siberians and Bengals. We went to see them a couple of years ago, but the weather was too hot, and they were too grumpy to do their tricks. The wife swears she is going to pet one this year. I’m planning a diversion. I’ll let you know how that turns out. 😉

Mar 23

A New Age Begins

FYI, the following post was composed entirely on my new AlphaSmart Neo and uploaded directly into WordPress.

So here it is, the AlphaSmart Neo. Cute little bugger, I must say. Ultra light. I hardly even feel it on my knees.

The display is very readable, even in bright sunlight (which is where I am writing this), and even in the smallest font size (which shows 6 lines on the screen, if my old, bqd eyes can read it, anybody can).

The keyboard is only a tad smnaller than a standard size PC keyboard. The difference is mainly in the Neo’s lack of a separate number pad. The keys have only a very slight click to them, but are firm enough to give positive feedback, which I love in a keyboard.

On the down side, the layout of the non-alphanumeric keys is going to take some getting used to. ESC is between the spacebar and “Delete”, “Clear file” is between “Find” and “Home”. Plus, the “Home” and “End” keys don’t do what I’m used to. They move the cursor to the start and end of the file, instead of the sentence. Those things will take some adjustment on my part.

Two things I really like are the facts that there is no saving involved and that the Neo times out and shuts itself off after a period of non-use. My work is saved as I type it. No need to remember to hit that “save” hot key or risk losing everything. If it shuts off, I just hit the “On/Off” button and within a couple of seconds, I am back where I left off. The down side? No “Undo”. Oh, well.

Transferring files to the computer is a snap. Plug in the USB cable, position the cursor where you want the text to appear, and press “Send”. Even I canhandle that. You can even upload multiple files one after the other. Sending files from the computer to the Neo is more problematic, and involves sending it as plain text, so all formatting will be lost, I can live with that.

Rugged? AlphaSmart products are made to be used in elementary school classrooms. Yeah, it’s rugged. The only moving parts are the keys on the keyboard. Everything else is solid state. I guess the most fragile part of the Neo is the screen, and I don’t intend to torture test that if I can help it.

Overall impression: the AlphaSmart Neo is a terrific, if low-end, tool for writers. It is by no means as full-featured as a true computer-based word processor, nor does it need to be. For an ultra-portable, ultra-convenient system for drafting documents for import into a word processor, I think it will be hard to beat.

So now the only thing is to use it. And use it and use it and use it. I think the Neo is just dandy.

Mar 17

The Late Great Laptop Debate

I broke down and ordered an AlphaSmart Neo over the weekend. Debra has enthused over hers, and a couple of the comments she made finally closed the deal for me.

I’ve been coveting a new laptop for a couple years now. the one I use is an old Pentium machine that has been upgraded as much as it can be and runs Windows 98 relatively well. The problem is that the machine doesn’t run all that well anymore. It has a tendency to die at inconvenient moments (is there any convenient moment for a laptop to die?). One of these days it will not resurrect.

The problem with buying a new laptop for me is that no one makes one that does only what I want. I need word processing (I prefer MS Word for a variety of reasons) and wireless Internet. That’s all. I neither need nor even want multimedia or fancy graphics. I’m not into games at all, except for the occasional round of Solitaire when I’m really in need of thinking time, and I think movies are better watched on a TV. Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you want to, but don’t even get me started on cell phones.

I really don’t want to spend $800 to $1000 on a machine that does so much I will never use. I looked at the ASUS eee, but the keyboard is just too small for my fingers.

The Neo gives me the best available compromise. It’s small (barely larger than a full-size keyboard), light (about 2 pounds), and will hold about 500K of data, which is enough for a good-sized novel. It’s also cheap ($219 plus shipping). They advertise 700 hours of operation on 3 AA batteries. Even if I only get 400, that’s astonishing. No outlets needed, and batteries ARE included. It’s also rugged, since it was designed for use in elementary schools.

I was worried about data transfer oddness, but it seems to be as easy as opening a Word document, plugging the Neo into an available USB port, and hitting the “Send” key. The data transfers just as if it were coming from a keyboard. Cool.

Having no Internet access may actually be a blessing, as well. I can get really involved in “research” to the detriment of my work, sometimes.

Here’s to a new paradigm in “wireless” computing.

Mar 11

Winter’s Last Gasp

We had snow Saturday morning. About 5 minutes of something that reminded me of dandruff. Around here, that’s cause for great excitement and the event has dominated conversation for the past few days. Later this week, we’ll have highs in the 80’s.

Good Friday marks the unofficial start of Spring in Georgia. After Good Friday, we can plant fronst-tender flowers and vegetables with a reasonable assurance that they will survive. I say reasonable because the infamous 18-inch snowfall I have mentioned several times before occurred in March. The old-timers swear by the Good Friday credo, so I do too, and it generally holds true.

I know a lot of my friends and blog-buddies still have a lot of snow on the ground, so I’m sending you this virtual sunshine in an attempt to brighten your winter. I’ll offer to trade places with you come July.

Mar 06

The Could War

Don’t get me wrong. “Could” is a perfectly good word with perfectly valid uses. It’s also an insidious leech that sucks the life right out of your prose when used improperly.

“He could see.” “She could feel.” No. “He saw.” “She felt.” The differences in these sentences stand out like a punch in the gut.

“Could” is one of those weasel words that distances the reader from the action of the story. That extra layer often provides the writer with a little more sense of comfort, a little less commitment, which usually leads to less compelling prose. Just because some character could do something doesn’t mean he did do it. Which is it? I have to force myself to make up my mind and speak clearly about what I mean. that’s not easy sometimes.

This is what I am currently fighting in my own writing. This is the biggest weasel (among many) gnawing on my butt right now. It’s also the biggest irritation as I read. Because it’s such a big deal in my own little writing world, it has become a big deal to me in the larger world. Some books are thumping against the wall as the cumulative effect just becomes too much for my limited patience.