Archives for May 2011

Dropbox

Of course, you’ve heard of Dropbox. It’s a simple idea but it’s a game changer. It’s a piece of software that creates a folder. It stores anything you put in that folder in the cloud and on every computer on which you have installed Dropbox and it keeps all of these different folders in sync when the computer carrying them is online.

Screen shot 2011 05 31 at 12 22 45

It’s so useful I have set it as the default save location in my Wordprocessor. It deals with the vexed problem of backups by ensuring that I have the file in Dropbox on that computer, on any machine I log in on later and in the cloud. I can access the files through the Dropbox website. That said,  I don’t rely on it for all my back up needs. I also use Time Machine, Back in Time and their ilk. I store work in progress on CDs/DVDs and USB thumb drives and external hard-drives as well. This is in part because I am paranoid and in part because I live in justifiable fear of having half a novel suddenly vanish into disconnected electrons on a failed hard-drive.

Of late, there has been some controversy about Dropbox’s security and potential access by employees. These are completely justified in some ways and totally irrelevant to me. I think anybody who keeps personal, critical data unencrypted in the Cloud is mad. I keep the text files of works in progress in my Dropbox. If someone wants to expend the effort to hack my Dropbox account to read some disjointed scenes from a half-completed novel by an obscure Scottish writer– good luck to them. If they are capable of it, they can probably find much more profitable uses for their time and talents.

Dropbox is one of those programs which has had a subtle but definite effect on my work routine. I find it very useful to be able to open the work in progress on any of my computers and have it suddenly, magically be there. I find it useful to have an automatic off-site backup. It has moved me away from Scrivener, because due to the way Scrivener works, it does not play as well with Dropbox as a conventional word-processor. I am a fidgety writer– I move around a lot. If you don’t, you probably won’t find this is useful as I do. It’s still a great backup device though.

Basic usage of up to 2GB is free. If you want more storage and some extra features, you will need to pony up some dosh. It works with Windows, OSX and Linux.

The Angel of Fire

I thought I would say a little about the work in progress today.

The Angel of Fire is a story of the Imperial Guard during the Macharian Crusade. It follows three friends, Leo, Anton and Ivan, part of the crew of a Baneblade, who by a series of strange accidents and the occasional bit of heroism end up saving the life of Macharius himself. It also involves huge armoured battles, urban combat in the streets of a Hive and a particularly nasty bunch of pyromaniac Tzeentch cultists.

It’s been a lot of fun to look inside the 41st Millennium from the first person point of view. It places a different focus on things from the third person. It’s more idiosyncratic. All of the action is on a much more human scale than the Space Wolf books. Looking up at a Space Marine through the eyes of a common soldier is a lot different from looking out of the eyes of a genetically engineered berserker. Plus I’ve been describing massive tank battles in a post-Apocalyptic wasteland, a thing I find very enjoyable indeed.

Some of the characters have reached that interesting stage where they are taking on a life of their own. I am particularly pleased with one officer in particular who was all set up to be the cowardly glory-grabber who gets our heroes into all sorts of trouble. Instead, he is transmuting himself into something altogether darker, stranger and oddly heroic. I am not sure where this is going to go but its fun to watch. It’s one of the great pleasures of writing.

I am working my way through it at my usual slow but steady rate of 2000 words a day. It’s surprising how quickly how the word counts stack up over the course of a month, but some of the scenes will end up being dropped from the final work and there were doubtless be a lot of rewriting involved. Still I am happy with the way things are going.

Bye Bye Rift, Hello Again WoW

I cancelled my sub to RIFT yesterday evening. It was not because I did not enjoy it. It was fun — a polished, pleasant fantasy MMO that played well. It just did not excite me all that much, which is the danger of following too closely in the footsteps of a market leader like World of Warcraft. Everything is just a little too familiar. I ended up feeling that if I am going to play a perfectly polished clone of WoW, I might as well play WoW where at least I have guild, friends and family.

I stopped playing WoW because I was burned out by the grind and everything was just a little bit too easy and familiar. I went back last night to level from scratch on a new PvP server with my son Dan. No heirloom gear, no Sugar Daddy level 85 toons to send gold to the new ones, just the plain old levelling grind with a totally new character. You know it was kind of fun.

One thing you realise coming back to WoW from a more realistic looking fantasy world like Rift is just how plain weird Azeroth is. Familiarity tends to dull that but after the long layoff, stepping into the primary coloured landscapes of Durotar and seeing all those cartoon trolls is a bit like being on hallucinogenics. I even felt a surge of nostalgia when I heard the cod native American music that accompanies those rust-red landscapes. I realised I like Azeroth, I like the humour, I like the attention to detail, I like the depth and strangeness of the world. And I must confess when I hit Ogrimmar for the first time, it really felt like hitting the big city. All those dragons, all those exotic flyers, all those powerful people.

Levelling to 10 was pretty smooth with my troll druid. Some of the starting areas had a few too many people competing for the quest goals so it went slower than it could. I enjoyed it though. At level 10 Dan and I grouped up for some PvP, inevitably Warsong Gulch came up. This is where a lot of the changes introduced over the past few years show their downside. It’s not much fun being a new player with fresh gear in a battleground full of folk encased in heirlooms. I was one shotted more times than I can count. I saw a level 12 mage with 997 health. At one point I grouped up with a couple of rogues to hit the enemy flag carrier. We got him down from 600 to 150 health– he was level 10! Then out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the arcane blast coming in. One hit, 117 points of overkill I am back in the graveyard. The Alliance have now established local superiority in our graveyard and basically camp us. We are so outgeared there is nothing we can really do about it. This was pretty much the story of every WSG for the rest of the evening. I can’t say it was a very attractive introduction to PvP at this level and I am used to being a punching bag. I can only imagine what this would have been like had I been a new player, fresh to the game. Hopefully it will get better as I gear up but the gear story is always going to be a problem in WoW.

It’s questing and and the dungeon finder for the next twenty levels or so. I am glad to be back in Azeroth anyway. One of the things my sojourn in Telara taught me is that there is no getting back that surge of excitement of being a complete noob in an MMO. That being the case, I am as happy getting my MMO fix from WoW as anywhere else.

Apple Sales Growth and Guardian Spin

Over at the Guardian tech blog Charles Arthur points out that over the past five years Apple has enjoyed growth of up to 27% while Windows PC manufacturers have seen sales slump. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Surely it’s worthy of serious investigation! There must be something that Windows PC manufacturers could learn here.

And yet the same article points out that Apple’s overall market share has grown from something like 3.35% worldwide to a mighty 4%. That sounds a lot less impressive, doesn’t it?

Apple are a great brand and they make very nice machines but 4% market share is not striking any sort of blow against the Windows behemoth. Using those 27% growth statistics to flog the Windows beast relies on a simple jedi math trick. Here it is:

I sold one book a year in 2009. I sold 2 books in 2010. I managed 100% sales growth and J K Rowling, whose sales numbers are stagnant, would do well to study my methods.

Alternatively I sold one million books in 2009. I sold 950000 books in 2010. My sales slumped by tens of thousands.

Which position would you rather be in — revelling in a mighty 100% growth or suffering through that 5% slump?

It’s easy to achieve high sales growth when you are coming off a small base. It is much harder when you already have a gigantic number of customers.

There are lots of things you can praise Apple for in a business sense — iPhone sales, their app store, their margins compared to PC manufacturers. But spinning this sort of sales growth as some kind of challenge to the Windows monopoly reads like it comes straight from a press release.

Monday Again– Let the Writing Begin

So here we are at the start of the work week. I have been doing my usual Monday morning thing — making lists of what needs to be done this week. I started this on a sheet of paper last night– I don’t touch a computer at all on Sundays unless it’s an absolute emergency. (This is not because I belong to a Sabbatarian Sect — its simply to give my RSI a rest.) I put aside time every Sunday to think about this, just as I spend the last day of  each month plotting what I will do in the following month. And, yes, I spend the last days of each year plotting what I will do in the coming year. I also have a 5 year plan. I like to think I am organised!

This morning I begin transferring stuff from paper to my Google and Android Phone To Do lists. I also check to see if any deadlines have snuck up on me, as they have the bad habit of doing.

I find that writing everything down and having alarms on my phone is a big help. I am one of those people for whom nothing is real until it’s written down.

So what’s on the agenda this week? First and most important — I intend to write 10K on the first draft of The Angel of Fire. This will be done in my usual fashion. I will read and correct the last chapter I wrote last week. This will bring me up to speed and get me back into the spirit of things after the weekend break. Then I will actually write two thousand words and then revise them. Tomorrow, I will start the day by re-reading what I did today and then write and revise another 2000 words. Rinse and repeat until next weekend.

Around all this will be the usual mish-mash of writing blog posts, replying to emails and doing chores. Today I am actually varying my routine by writing this blog post first. Now, excuse me, it’s back to the 41st Millennium for me!

Scrivener on Linux

I just downloaded the .deb package from the Scrivener forums and installed them on a Linux virtual machine running Ubuntu 10.10. It worked flawlessly. I am looking forward to testing this next week.

Below is a screenshot of The Angel of Fire imported from OpenOffice Writer.

In case you are wondering why the word Scene appears so often in those Binder headings it’s because I put it there to mark scenes in my OpenOffice file before I imported it into Scrivener for Linux. I then performed a search for the word and used the Shift+Control+K hotkey combination to split the file into individual scenes in Scrivener.

Yes, I spend my time doing this stuff and it really amuses me. I am a sad, sad man.

Scrivener for Linux