Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What do we do now?

I’m in shock right now. I didn’t sleep a wink last night, yet still I got up hoping that the election results would turn out to have been a bad dream. I thought I was clear-eyed about the risk of this happening — I’ve seen enough works of speculative fiction on the theme of “It Can Happen Here,” and I know from my studies of history that societies don’t remain stable forever. But still, I let myself get reassured every time the probabilities swung away from this outcome and just crossed my fingers. I feel embarrassed about my last-moment, half-hearted post about the election yesterday. I feel that I should’ve said more before now, done more. But I’m sure a lot of other people do as well — and many more will come to feel buyers’ remorse over the months and years ahead.

It’s happened. The United States has let an incompetent, abusive, bigoted con man trick it into believing he cares about anything but himself. A stooge of a hostile foreign power will now occupy the Oval Office. Civil rights in this country are likely to be set back by a generation. The economy will likely tank, the world will likely become more unstable and violent. The odds that we can stabilize the planet’s climate will plummet. This is probably the worst thing that has happened in the United States in my lifetime.

Still, I’m looking for reasons to hold onto optimism, because that’s what keeps me going. I was bullied and marginalized throughout grade school, my life was one of constant stress and fear and low self-esteem, but because of Star Trek and superheroes, I had hope that there was a way things could get better. I needed to have hope. It was all that kept me sane.

There is the hope that, now that he has won the prize which is the only thing he cared about, Trump will be completely uninterested in actually going to the trouble of governing. He essentially said in the campaign that he’d entrust both foreign and domestic policy to his vice president. I expect this to be like the Reagan administration squared — the celebrity figurehead will barely pay attention to the work and it’ll be taken care of by the staff and handlers who surround him, who will be working hard to walk back the figurehead’s rhetoric and keep the sharp objects out of his hands, like they did throughout the campaign. Which would mean we’ve effectively elected Mike Pence president, or maybe whoever becomes chief of staff. That’s awful enough in its own right, but at least it might just be an ordinary level of presidential awfulness rather than the authoritarian coup many have feared. There’s also the hope that, since he’s a con artist whose whole campaign was built on lies, he won’t actually try to enact the nonsensical or hateful policies he spent the past year advocating. His supporters will probably get screwed over as badly as the investors in his businesses.

Still, we can’t assume the worst won’t happen; that mistake led to yesterday’s outcome. The fact that there’s a movement that responded to a campaign based on racism and religious bigotry and authoritarianism, and that it was large enough to win the election, is terrifying. That movement isn’t going anywhere, and they’ve been emboldened now. And Trump thrives on their adulation, so he’ll continue giving rallies to stir them up, and that will be even worse now that he has the bully pulpit. So the rest of us will have to stand firm, to keep speaking out for what we believe in, to be a loyal opposition and a check on the government’s excesses and a conscience for the nation. We saw in the 1960s how powerful such protest movements can be even when the government is against them. Things may be bad for a while to come, but I believe it will inspire a counterreaction that will eventually make things better again.

I’ve been thinking, during this sleepless night, about the 1991 book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book, and the subsequent ones by the same authors, put forth a generational theory of American history stating that the country has gone through several iterations (“turnings”) of a four-generation cycle lasting about 80 years, give or take. There’s a High period, when society is optimistic and well-off but conformist, afraid of anything that would upset their stable existence; an Awakening, when a new generation challenges the previous conformist norms and restrictions and experiments with personal and spiritual awakening; an Unraveling, where the previous generation’s focus on the self leads to an era when social institutions are weak and the population is divisive and mistrustful, unable to unify to solve its problems; and a Crisis, where those festering problems erupt into a major upheaval, but the generation forged in that crisis unites and rises to the occasion, solving it and building a new order that ushers in the next High. In the most recent “turning” of this cycle, the Depression and WWII were the Crisis, the postwar era through the early ’60s was the High, the ’60s and ’70s were the Awakening, and the mid-’80s onward were the Unraveling. And that would put us in the Crisis phase right about now.

In the 25 years since the book came out, I’ve been startled by how closely reality has conformed to the predictions of this theory, although from a scholarly perspective I know that it would take at least another complete “turning” to confirm it scientifically. But I’ve expected for a long time now that we would enter another Crisis phase around this time, and so far, events are bearing that out. And that means things are going to get worse before they get better. I hadn’t expected it to take this form. But I do believe it won’t last forever. It may be a decade or more before we come through it, but I believe the counterreaction against what’s to come will lead to a better world for the Millennial generation and the one after that. And maybe that generation — so much more inclusive and multicultural than the American generations before it — will begin to find a way to break the cycle of highs and lows. That’s probably a long shot, but I need to believe it’s possible. We all need hope more than ever right now. And not just those of us who lost yesterday. Trump won over his supporters because they already lacked hope and were vulnerable to someone offering them easy answers. Real solutions are never easy, but they can only work if they offer hope to everyone, not just those we agree with.

So what will I do? I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep using my work to portray a better future we can strive toward, and to be as inclusive of diverse characters and worldviews as I can. I’ll keep writing allegories about the problems we face, and hopefully influencing some people to work toward solving them. I know, for example, that my upcoming Star Trek: The Original Series novel The Face of the Unknown, due out at the end of this year, is suddenly much more relevant than I ever wanted it to be. It may be hard to believe in a better future at the moment, but my work, both in Star Trek and in my main original universe, has always incorporated the assumption that the first half of the 21st century would be a time of crisis, but that it would be a catalyst for humanity to find new solutions and make the world better — not completely, not easily, and always with the risk of backsliding, but still better, wiser, more inclusive and enlightened. We need to keep believing in that future, and fighting for it. In the words of Robert Hewitt Wolfe (Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, “Under the Night,” October 2, 2000), “Pessimism is not a survival trait.” No matter who won or lost the election, we still need the audacity of hope, and we are still stronger together.


(I’m disabling comments again, because this is hard for me to think about or talk about. I needed to say this, to get it out of my system, but I don’t have the strength for an extended discussion, and I still have writing obligations that urgently need my attention right now. This will be reposted on my Facebook page, of course.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Please vote today!

I’ve been hesitant to post anything about the election here on my blog, in part because I’m really busy with writing right now, and in part because I’m timid and don’t like to invite controversy here on my personal site. Also, I was raised to believe that voting decisions were a private matter. Anyway, I think people familiar with my work will already have a pretty good idea where I stand, and will be fans of other people who’ve made the case quite eloquently.

But today’s election is so important that I had to say something. A healthy democracy depends on informed voters participating in the process. We’re not spectators, we’re the decision-makers, and when too few of us participate, the decisions that get made tend to be bad for the rest of us. And those decisions need to be careful and informed, because an election is a job interview, not a popularity contest. And this may be the single most important election of our lifetimes. Even from a climate-change perspective alone, the fate of the world may be literally at stake today — or at least whether the optimistic futures I like to write about will ever be plausible.

Even if it weren’t so pivotal this time, it’s always important to vote, and to be an informed voter, learning about the issues and candidates rather than just letting rhetoric, partisanship, and propaganda guide you. It’s work, yes, but democracy is like adulthood — with great freedom comes great responsibility. If we don’t do the work, we don’t get the benefits of independence. And not only for the big races, but all the way down the line. The local races, particularly for things like school boards and juvenile court judges, are just as important to our everyday lives as the big stuff that gets national attention.

So please vote, and vote carefully.

Categories: Uncategorized

Up and running again (mostly)

January 2, 2016 1 comment

As it turned out, when I contacted the suppliers of my refurbished PC to arrange for it to be shipped in for repairs, they offered to send me a replacement pre-imaged hard drive that would have a copy of the same Windows 7 operating system on it, so that I could swap it out myself. That would certainly take less time than sending the laptop back in and waiting to get it back, so I went for that. After all, I’d seen the guy at Best Buy take the hard drive out to inspect it, so I knew how to do it. Two weeks passed and no drive came, so I complained, and it arrived two days after that. I was uneasy that it had been sent in just a padded envelope instead of something sturdier, but I installed it today and it seems to be working fine. And since I just did all this a bit over a month ago, I was able to do it more efficiently this time, though it still took forever for some of the software to download from the Internet, so it took all afternoon and then some. (Though this time I backed up and copied my documents with a thumb drive rather than using the network connection between PCs, and it was far, far faster, as I’d hoped.)

Some stuff will have to wait until tomorrow, but I’ve now got the essential stuff reinstalled and working — except for my e-mail client program, eM Client. For some reason, when I installed a new copy and tried overwriting its mailbox data files with the up-to-date ones from the old drive (which I’d copied onto my old laptop as a backup and transferred back from there), it led to some kind of malfunction in the program and it crashed. I still have the data on my old computer; I just need to figure out how to get it working on my new-new computer. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong this time that’s different from when I transferred the data files the other way. I really hope I can get it figured out tomorrow. I need to get past these computer troubles once and for all so I can get back to work on my writing.

UPDATED: Okay, I figured out what I was doing wrong with the mail client. I had to delete the entire application data folder before copying the entire old one into its place. When I tried to overwrite the existing folder, it somehow created duplicate files in some weird way (even though I clicked on the replace option in the file manager), and when I tried to just copy the .dat files, I guess it created a conflict the program couldn’t resolve. Once I wiped the whole database folder and replaced it with the old one, the program worked fine.

So now I’ve got all the essential stuff reinstalled and some of the less urgent stuff. There are still a few things left to do, like reinstalling my printer drivers from the CD, but I’m basically back on track after less than 24 hours.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Or does it…?

Well, here is what I posted on Facebook this past Tuesday:

“Okay, that’s worrisome… I turned my new (refurbished) laptop on this morning and it just made this repetitive clicking noise for a while, and after the initial pre-Windows startup text and a black screen for a while, I just got a cursor blinking in the corner and more clicking. I finally turned it off and back on again, and it booted up fine. Is this potentially serious?

I was told this could be a sign of imminent disk failure, but checking online about clicking sounds indicated that it could be anything from normal operational noises to a harbinger of doom. I ran a disk check on bootup and it showed no damage, but I decided to take it in to Best Buy today and see what they could tell me. According to their Geek Squad guy, the sound is definitely a hard drive noise that it’s not supposed to be making. He couldn’t find any clear sign of damage aside from a slight dent in the drive’s casing, and the diagnostics showed no problem. Still, with his input, I concluded it was probably best to send it in for replacement or repair. It turned out they had no others of this model in stock, so it would have to be repair. We were just about to send it out when I thought to show the guy the paperwork that had come with the laptop, including a sheet revealing that it was covered under a different warranty than their usual, so they couldn’t do the repairs themselves. Instead, apparently, I have to arrange with the specified company to handle the shipping and repairs. Which means I still have the laptop with me now, until I can arrange that. It’s working fine, and I’m almost tempted to keep it around, but that’s tempting fate.

Although it’s somehow not quite working fine. When I got it home and tried plugging my external keyboard back in, it wouldn’t work. The touchpad built into the keyboard eventually started to work, but then the keys wouldn’t work. The computer seemed to be having trouble finding the drivers, even though it worked fine this morning. I’m using the laptop’s own keyboard and screen for now, but I don’t know what the problem is. This is the first time I’ve disconnected and reconnected the keyboard and monitor since I first plugged them into this laptop. It’s a pretty old keyboard, and I’ve been afraid it might be close to giving up the ghost, but the backup keyboard and mouse I have on hand wouldn’t work either; the computer took too long to search for driver software for the mouse. Which I’ve just realized is because it’s on a CD that I still have, so I guess I can install that later if I need to. The keyboard is another matter, though. The problem might be with the adapter I’m using, since both keyboards use those old circular purple connectors and I only have the one adapter from that to USB. If that’s the source of the problem, then I’m sunk until I can get a new one or a new USB keyboard. Still, it seems unlikely that I’d have a hardware failure with the keyboard or its connector at the same time I’m dealing with a laptop problem. It seems logical that the problem is with the laptop, but I’m not sure what could’ve changed since this morning.

So this is a mess. I guess I just need to send it in for repair and hope my old laptop survives until this one comes back. Or, according to the guy at the store, I could potentially trade this laptop in for a different one, but it’d probably cost more. In theory, they could install a new hard drive and Windows at Best Buy, but the cost of the drive, OS, and labor would come out to about the same amount I spent on the laptop itself. So that’s probably off the table.

And even in the best case, I’ll still have to reload all my data and reinstall all my software all over again. At least I have recent practice at it. Sigh…

EDIT: Oh, I don’t believe this. No sooner did I publish this post that I received an order from Amazon including two coffee mugs… and one of the mugs arrived broken. Arrgghhh! And the socks I ordered from Amazon and received a few days earlier were the wrong size. That’s three things I’ve bought in the past month that have turned out wrong! Am I cursed or something?

EDIT 2: Well, my external keyboard is suddenly working again, which is something, I guess.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Well, the new laptop works…

December 6, 2015 7 comments

Been about a week now with the new laptop, and so far it’s working pretty smoothly. I’m able to watch streaming video again, so I finally managed to watch Marvel’s Jessica Jones, which was very impressive (though I don’t think I’m up to a review right now). I’ve been able to go back to Firefox as my main browser, which has a few drawbacks, but it’s easy enough to open Chrome as an alternative when I need to.

The neat thing about Windows 7 is that it’s combined the quick-launch buttons with the taskbar, so that when you click a button in the bar, it expands in place into the tab. I like that because I like having my open tabs in a certain order on the taskbar, so it’s easy to remember which is which. Before, I had to open the programs in the right order to achieve that, and if I had to close one and reopen it, it would throw off the tab arrangement on the taskbar. Now, the tabs stay in the same left-to-right order no matter when they’re opened, and having two browser buttons next to each other makes it easier to swap between them. It’s my favorite feature so far.

The main problem so far is that the damn thing keeps trying to get me to upgrade to Windows 10, even trying to download some preliminary upgrade thingy without asking first (with small print about how additional fees might apply), though I was able to stop it in time. I really resent the strongarm tactics they’re using to try to push me to accept the upgrade. Come on, I’ve only been using Windows 7 for a few days now! If I’d wanted Windows 10, I would’ve gotten it in the first place! But I gather it’s still too new a program and not entirely debugged yet, so I’d prefer to wait. I wish there were a way I could opt out completely, to tell Windows that I don’t want to be pressured to upgrade. Don’t call me, I’ll call you, that sort of thing. But they’ve designed the system so that there’s no evident way to do that, and I resent that imposition. The more aggressively you push something on me, the more I resist it. If I do upgrade to Win 10, I want it be at my own time and on my own terms.

Oh, I’m also getting the hang of the new edition of Word I’m using. So far it seems pretty much the same as the older version in most respects, but there are some annoying quirks. For one thing, it doesn’t remember my preferred window size when I reopen it. It insists on opening in a window that’s shorter than the screen height, and I don’t see the point in that. It also takes one more step to open the file directory because it’s inserted a new “Open” screen giving a bunch of options that are mostly irrelevant to me, rather than defaulting to browsing my drive. Plus I have to click “Open” to get the list of my recent files, instead of just getting it as a dropdown menu. And I’ve had to relearn how to access the search-and-replace function. Plus the cursor’s been animated to slide more smoothly between positions, which is kind of distracting, though I suppose I’ll get used to it. All in all, so far I don’t see much functional improvement over the 8-year-old version I had been using. But the important thing is that it works, and I’ve been able to get back into the swing of things with writing.

Up and running

I’m posting this from my new (err, refurbished) laptop, which arrived on Friday night and which I’ve spent the past two and a half days getting set up. I couldn’t do anything when it arrived, since it came with a totally discharged battery and the instructions said I needed to charge it for 8 hours. So I let it charge overnight, but I was concerned, because the power light didn’t go on and the AC adapter didn’t get warm. I wondered overnight if maybe the battery or the adapter was defective and I’d have to take it into Best Buy in the morning. But when I tried turning it on the next morning, it powered up fine. But it went through a bunch of initial system tests first, and I was worried when it couldn’t do the disk test because, so it said, “Disk not installed.” Egad! So I shut it down and just let it be for a while, because I wanted to focus on my writing and take my time easing into the computer situation. But when I turned it on again, it did boot up and load Windows just fine. Whew. And it automatically detected my wifi, so I just had to download the software I needed. I do wish I hadn’t bought MS Office at Best Buy with the laptop, because it turned out I could’ve saved 50 bucks if I bought it online. Oh, well. At least all my other software is free.

I spent most of yesterday using the “Network” capability to transfer my documents and settings between computers. I think I was doing it via ethernet cable, but I found today that the two laptops are still in contact via wifi, so I’m not sure if the cable was doing anything. The best evidence is that the transfer was pretty slow with the older cable I was using, but when I switched to a newer cable, I got a somewhat higher data transfer rate. Still, it took most of Sunday evening and part of this morning to finish the transfer. But I finally got to the point where I was ready to swap out the two laptops and start browsing with the new one.

And so far it works great. The performance is a lot faster than with the old laptop. Sites are loading faster, and so far, Internet videos are playing at least as well as they did on my old XP system before it started having problems, and seem to be loading faster. So that means I should be able to start watching Jessica Jones on Netflix at last, yay! Also, the new laptop is running much cooler and quieter so far than the old one did. That’s a good sign.

Hardware-wise, the new laptop has a silver metal exterior instead of black plastic, and the opening latch is different. Annoyingly, it doesn’t have a USB port on the right side like the old one did; that’s the side I have facing forward when my laptop is plugged into my desk setup, because the left and rear sides are where all the plugs go in and that way I don’t have any cords sticking out to bump into with my legs. (I have a couple of stacked wire racks that I use to hold the computer and power cords underneath the desk, a setup I put in place years ago when I had a desktop CPU that ran very hot and needed a lot of airflow — as did my former laptop. It also helps keep the cords nicely out of the way.) I guess I’ll just have to make sure the USB hub stays easily in reach, ideally by securing it near the front of the rack somehow.

Also, I think the laptop has a built-in webcam and mike, although the ordering info said it didn’t. But I haven’t been able to find any means of activating it to confirm that it’s there; I just know that there’s a lenslike opening above the screen and the Device menu in Control Panel says they’re there. But it doesn’t really matter, since I usually keep my laptop closed as part of my desk setup. Still, on general principles, I stuck a piece of sticky note over the lens to make sure it isn’t watching me unless I want it to.

Oh, and there was a button next to the lens that I assumed was to turn the webcam on and off, but when I tried it, I discovered that it’s actually a built-in white-LED light that shines down on the keyboard so you can work in the dark. That’s really neat!

Now I’m still going to have to get used to working with the newest edition of Word after writing with the 2007 edition for so long. So far, to my disappointment, it has the same problem that the older edition started to have after my XP-to-Vista “upgrade” — it lost the ability to interpret smart quotes from older formats, turning apostrophes into equals signs and close quotes into @s and the like. It’s easy to search-and-replace those, but it turns opening quotes into capital As, which display in a different font but which the search function is unable to differentiate from actual As, so I have to search and replace them manually. I really, really hoped that the newer edition of Word would be advanced enough not to have that problem, but no such luck. (Although the problem could be that I’d modified and saved the file on the old laptop before trying it here.) Anyway, I’d just managed to get some real momentum going on my novel when the laptop came, so I need to get back to that now that I’m set up.

Oh, well, I guess everything’s a tradeoff — for all you gain, there are some losses. For now, though, I seem to have a fully functional computer again, though there are a few things I probably still need to install here and there.

As for the old laptop, it’s ironically been behaving itself quite well, without a freeze in maybe about a week or so. So I think I’ll keep it around as a backup, maybe use it to work in the bedroom, or on the balcony in good weather. Its problems have resulted from online activity, so if I use it mainly for writing, maybe it’ll be okay. (And I should probably finally get rid of my much heavier, slower first laptop which I’ve kept for four years as an emergency backup, but which is too outdated to be any good for that now.)

So anyway, after dealing with a recalcitrant computer for more than two months, I finally have my new one in working order. Let’s just hope it stays that way…

And now we wait…

November 19, 2015 2 comments

Well, I’ve bought a new laptop. Technically. The consensus of the people who’ve commented on the matter to me was that I should get a Windows 7 computer, that Windows 10 was still too new and buggy; and my online research seemed to confirm that 7 was the most stable and reliable. But all the stores are pushing Windows 10 now, so the only way I could get one with 7 was to have the store clerk order one for me online and have it shipped to me. I could’ve done that from home, I suppose, but I wanted to consult with someone who could explain things to me. Anyway, I’ve ordered a refurbished laptop of the same brand and vintage as my current one, but supposedly the refurbishing means it’s been tested and affirmed reliable. It was reasonably inexpensive, and it’s better than my current one in a number of respects — twice the RAM, processor about a third faster, hard drive about two-thirds roomier, screen resolution higher, and with a CD/DVD drive that burns DVDs, while my current one only burns CDs. And it’s old enough to have a VGA port so I can plug in my desktop monitor, although I gather there are VGA-to-USB adapters available if I needed one. It doesn’t have a built-in webcam, but that’s fine, since I usually keep it closed and use it as a desktop CPU anyway, and I have a separate webcam/mike that I’ve only really used once since I bought it (and that I keep unplugged when I’m not using it, for fear of online spying). The main thing I need is something that’s stable, that I can write on and browse on without freezing, and hopefully something I can watch streaming videos on effectively. I gather the doubled RAM and faster processor should facilitate that, along with the fact that Win 7 is less RAM-heavy than the Vista I’m currently saddled with. (I tried watching some Hulu last week, but my laptop froze up during the loading of an ad — the first time it’s actually frozen while I was watching a video, rather than later in a session while I was doing something else. The freezes seem to be coming more frequently.)

I also had to buy MS Office separately so I could install Word on the thing, and that was pretty pricey. The place where I bought my current laptop loads various software on their computers for free, including Office 2007, but I don’t trust that place anymore, and I figured it was worth investing in a newer edition of Word. (And my need to have Word for professional reasons limited my laptop buying choices — for instance, I couldn’t get a Chromebook, because they don’t yet have a Word app for the Android operating system they use.) But it’s been so long since I bought a major piece of software that things have changed. They don’t sell boxes with discs in them anymore — I spent a hundred-plus bucks for a palm-sized piece of cardboard with a product key number underneath a scratch-off pad, so I can download the software online.

The problem is, I have to wait for the machine to be delivered, which is expected to be sometime between next Tuesday and December 3. So I have to keep using my current one for another week or two and hope it stays functional. And I can’t trust it to watch videos on, which sucks, because Marvel’s Jessica Jones premieres on Netflix tomorrow. I’ll have to wait a while before I can watch it. (I really, really wish that when I got my smartphone a while back, I’d accepted their offer to add a tablet for another 50 bucks. I could use a tablet now.)

The other downside is that, between the money I’ve had to spend on the laptop and software, the prospect that it might be delivered next week, and the degree to which my laptop troubles have delayed my work on my Star Trek novel, I’ve had to reluctantly decide that I can’t spare the time or expense right now to drive to Maryland and have Thanksgiving with my cousins, aunt, and uncle. It stinks, but the timing just doesn’t work out. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to see them before long.

Anyway, now that I’ve actually bought the darn thing, that means I don’t need to spend any more time searching, so I’ve been able to refocus on the novel and make some real progress at last. And with my online TV-watching options constrained, I guess that’ll be one less distraction from writing. So hopefully I’ll be able to make up for lost time over the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen the recent news reports about how moderate coffee drinking is good for you, so I’m thinking I should drink more of it. Fortunately, I seem to have acclimated to the taste, even maybe kind of started to like it. Yesterday I dared to try drinking my morning coffee black, and it was actually palatable. Or maybe I’ve just burned off enough taste buds to tolerate it.

The local weather has been fluctuating between highs in the 40s and highs in the 60s, which is awkward for living in this apartment building with its strictly binary central-heat settings and its large mass making it slow to change temperature. Last week, it was chilly in my apartment and I had to bundle up and sleep under a heavy comforter; now it’s only a sunny 57 degrees outside but it’s stuffy and practically sweltering inside. So maybe I won’t have another cup of hot coffee just yet…