Archives for February 2016

Life in the Clouds

I finally gave in and took out a subscription to Spotify. I’ve probably listened to more new music in the past couple of weeks than I have in the previous couple of years.

I haven’t really regarded myself as a big music fan since my teens, when I was obsessed with 70s rock. (Well, it was the 70s.) Even so I have somehow over the years acquired well 40 Gb of MP3s from iTunes, Amazon and my old CD collection.

If you combine this with the 40 GB plus of RPG PDFs I have acquired over the years, my gigabytes and gigabytes of photographs from a couple of decades of travelling with a digital camera, and bunch of other stuff, you can see why buying a laptop with a 128 GB SSD would be an unwise decision for me. When you take into account the space the operating system uses, the two or three gigs of files I keep in Dropbox, there would be around negative four GB of space left.

Yet now I can see a strange new digital world opening up in front of me. Spotify means I don’t have to keep any music on my computer and I can have access to more songs than Iever  had before. Netflix provides me with access to TV shows and movies.

And oddly enough Microsoft Office has left me with my PDFs in the Cloud. I am an Office 365 subscriber and it comes with a Terrabyte of online storage. My PDF game collection lives there now.

Suddenly all these small cheap computers with 32 or 64 Gb of storage (and Chromebooks too) make sense. You don’t need vast hard drives for your gigantic digital collections if you stream them from the cloud. It’s been oddly liberating. My cheapo Windows tablets and netbooks are suddenly a lot more useful. I suspect I am finally using them as they were meant to be used.

Of course, it’s not perfect. World of Warcraft still takes up 30 plus GB on the drives of my main machines. I suspect the day is coming though when even game streaming will be mainstream. You can already see harbingers of this with tablets like the nVidia Shield.

I can see the impact of the bits on the atoms of my physical existence. I buy far fewer print books since I got a Kindle. The ones I usually do purchase are hardbacks that I want to stick on my shelves or really old paperbacks of which there are no digital editions yet. This has been a real boon. I say this as a man who shipped tons of books internationally the last time he moved house and that was only about a third of my library. I have not bought a single DVD since subscribing to Netflix.

It struck me that the rise of the uncluttering/simplification movement parallels the rise of digital goods. It’s easy enough now to keep your shelves empty and your mind full of books and music and movies. I feel a certain nostalgia for the print books. The rest I do not miss.

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Review: Lenovo Ideapad 100S

I bought this machine for my upcoming trip. I don’t fancy traipsing through hostels and tourist areas with a top end MacBook Pro or a Surface Pro and this looked like a good solution. It was very cheap– less than £170 for the basic version and just over £200 for the 64 Gb version which is what I bought. It’s light and it comes with Windows 10. It’s basically the modern equivalent of the netbook.

What I did not expect was that I would like the machine so much. It looks great. It’s well built and it has an excellent keyboard. It’s just about the perfect size for a travel computer– 11.6 inch screen with a footprint slightly larger than an 11.6 inch MacBook Air. It weighs a smidgeon less and has a couple of hours longer battery life.

Mind you, those are the only areas where the 100S beats the MBA. It is nowhere near comparable in terms of power. It uses an Intel Atom processor and has a mere 2 GB of RAM. Even with an SSD it launches most programs slowly. You can count to five while it launches MS Word or Scrivener. If you’re used to the instant starts that you get with a MacBook or a Surface, you’ll notice it. It’s not twiddle- your-thumbs slow but you’ll feel the pain.

The thing is that, once you’ve launched the programs, you won’t notice any difference in performance between running them on the 100S and on a much more powerful computer.

I would not want to use this machine for photo editing but for the sort of stuff I am likely to be doing– browsing, email and writing books, it’s way more than good enough.

On top of that, the keyboard is superb. It flexes a bit as you hit the keys but that in no way detracts from the typing experience. It’s way better than any netbook I have ever used and right up there with my Mac. Seriously.

You’ll find some other criticisms of the 100S on the Net. One of the main ones is that it does not support trackpad gestures like two finger scrolling and it uses two hard-wired trackpad buttons instead of keyboard tapping.

For me this is a feature not a bug. My experience with trackpad gestures on cheap computers has left a lot to be desired. I dislike having the cursor jumping all over the place and that does not happen on the 100S unlike on most netbooks I have owned.

The other criticism is that the screen has narrow viewing angles and is a bit dull. Those are both true but I don’t care. I am just looking to type on this thing. There’s also no touchscreen but I can live without that too.

My own big criticism is that it uses a non-standard power adapter. I would have preferred the sort of generic USB ones that you get with most modern netbooks. It makes it easier to carry only one charger for your phone and computer.

The Lenovo 100S reminds me of a good computer from last decade. It does not have many modern fripperies but it gets the job done. At least if the job is word processing and email. It’s very easy to carry round and is a pleasure to type on. It even looks pretty good when you whip it out in the coffee shop. What more need I say?

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Whatever Happened to Daily Posting?

I’ve not put up anything here since the start of the month. So whatever happened to daily posting?

In part, life got in the way. A sick child, an interesting business meeting that overran by a couple of hours, a deadline and suddenly days had gone by without anything being done on the blog.

That was only part of it though. Some of it was intentional– honest! I wanted to see how things went without the discipline (or perhaps tyranny) of the daily post. The answer is that, as far as my work is concerned, they went very well. I found that on actual work days without the daily post my output roughly doubled.

That seems disproportionate but it is accurate. These posts are short and they rarely take more than an hour to write but that’s not the whole story. There’s dealing with comments, which I enjoy but which takes up a lot more time than I imagined. I have to think about what I am going to say, then I have to check it to make sure that it’s not too horribly spelled or punctuated.

And that, in some ways is the key. It’s not so much the time as the interuptions. I am notified by email whenever someone comments and I feel compelled to respond. It breaks my concentration, and it always takes me time to return to the flow afterwards. Sometimes quite a long time. It chops up the day and makes it bitty.

Blogging itself takes up headspace. I often find myself thinking about topics for the blog or responses to comments rather than the projects I was working on. I can wrench myself away and back to work, but it is an effort. When you are as lazy as I am, that’s the last thing you want.

I’ve often enjoyed posting and, whining aside, the comments and the interaction have been fun. But there were times when I was forcing myself to do it , simply because I had made the commitment. It was useful discipline but it was not fun.

Blogging also provided me with an excuse to procrastinate when I should have been writing. I was meeting a public commitment therefor it could be justified.

It’s been an interesting experiment. It has left me with enormous respect for those people who manage to blog every day or even just on a regular schedule.

The daily posting started as one of my usual over-reactions. Oops I only posted 8 times last year, let’s compensate for that by blogging every day. It was like those times when I decided to compensate for Xmas season overeating by going on a hyper-strict diet combined with a heavy exercise program. The intentions were good but the likelihood of failure extremely high.

I’ve decided that last year’s once every 6 weeks posting schedule is too little and once a day is too much. I’m going to aim for one post a week, probably on Wednesdays with extra posts as and when I really have something to say or rant about. Like today.

And now it’s time to put this up and get back to work.

if you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.