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Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Trackpad travails

In breaking in my new keyboard, I’ve been having some issues with the built-in trackpad. There were a couple of occasions where it started glitching, the cursor dragging spontaneously to the side and the scroll strip (the equivalent of a mouse wheel) no longer working. I found I could reset it by unplugging the keyboard and plugging it back in, but it happened twice within the first few days, then again a bit over a week later. There was one time when scrolling worked intermittently and came on and off with no clear rhyme or reason. Also, the sensitivity of the pad seemed variable; sometimes it got so sensitive that I kept accidentally clicking on things while just trying to move the cursor across them.

So I was concerned I might have to swap it for a different keyboard, but when I went to Amazon to look into the return policy, I saw a troubleshooting page, and after looking it over, I realized the problem was probably that the driver hadn’t installed right, because I’d ignored the instruction to shut down the computer before plugging in the keyboard. I really don’t like to shut down or reboot my laptop, because it takes forever. I usually just hibernate it at night.

So I tried rebooting it at last, and after that, the pad seemed to stabilize. The sensitivity was normal again, and its behavior was consistent for a few days. It still tends to be slow to respond; I have to move my finger over it a bit before it starts to work, so if I try clicking or tapping it “cold” after not moving the cursor for a while, the click doesn’t go through. I wondered if this was another driver issue, but since it’s been pretty consistent from the get-go, I suspect it’s a built-in feature to guard against accidental clicks, or something. Not ideal, but I can get used to it.

But a couple of days ago, the scrolling stopped working again, and I had to unplug/replug the keyboard. I may have to try something more than just rebooting; the troubleshooting page suggested uninstalling the driver, shutting down, then plugging it in and rebooting. Of course, then I’d have to use the laptop’s own keyboard to shut it down, a bit more involved (since I keep the laptop sort of halfway under the desk on a wire rack for ventilation, so I have to kneel down and pull it out to access its keyboard). So I’ve been hesitating to do that.

See, I realized that the past couple of times the trackpad glitched, it was when I tried using it with damp fingers. (I’m a very frequent hand-washer.) So I’m wondering if maybe this is not a driver problem; maybe this particular trackpad just gets confused by the coldness or spread-out contact when there’s moisture on the pad. So maybe reinstalling the driver wouldn’t do anything.

Another possibility suggested on the troubleshooting page was interference with the USB port, suggesting plugging it into another port. The problem is that I don’t have a lot of options there. The ports in my laptop itself are taken or inaccessible. (The speaker jack stopped working several years back and I had to get a USB speaker/mic adapter that’s wide enough to block the adjacent port.) So my only real options are the ports on my USB hub, and if one of them had interference, they all might. And somehow it doesn’t really seem like an interference problem at this point.

I really should try the uninstall/reboot thing just on general principles, but I’m lazy. For now, I’m just waiting to see if the pad glitches again without moisture being involved.

I guess I put up with my old keyboard’s dirty contacts and responsiveness problems for so long, constantly having to fiddle with the left button and push it at just the right angle and pressure to get it to engage after multiple false starts, that having a keyboard that works fine aside from occasionally having to be plugged back in — or one that works fine as long as I keep my fingers dry — seems like a minor inconvenience by comparison, one I can live with in the same way.

Anyway, if anyone has any insights based on the symptoms I described, feel free to comment.

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My new (old) keyboard

February 13, 2022 2 comments

I’ve needed a new desktop computer keyboard for a long time now. I’ve had the same keyboard since 2007, and it’s gotten really worn out, but it wasn’t easy to replace. See, because of my shoulder tendinitis, I have trouble using a conventional mouse. Back in ’07, I finally found a special ergonomic keyboard, split in the middle and contoured, with a built-in wrist rest that has a touchpad in the center, which is much less strenuous on my shoulder than a mouse. (It’s also got volume and mute hotkeys built in, which is really handy.) But it’s a unique design, and I haven’t been able to find anything comparable. The only available option was to buy another of the original model, and that would run me around 70 dollars, quite pricey for a keyboard.

So I just stuck with my old keyboard and tried to put up with its increasing deterioration. The letters had worn off of many of the keys, which was okay since I can touch-type, but sometimes a problem when I was typing one-handed by sight while sipping tea or something. There was some kind of a glitch in the connection (I suspect in the USB adaptor for its original mouse and keyboard jacks) that occasionally caused it to disconnect for a fraction of a second so I’d have to retype. If it glitched while I was using Shift, Ctrl, or Alt, they would sometimes get stuck on and weird things would happen until I realized the issue and hit the key again to undo it. Worst of all, the left button on the touchpad had a very dirty or eroded contact and I had to push at juuust the right angle and pressure to get it to connect, so it often took multiple tries to highlight a piece of text or use a scroll bar, which was very frustrating. Still, I figured I’d just bear with it until something stopped working altogether.

But the other day, the E key suddenly became less responsive. I had to push firmly for a moment to get it to engage, and that really disrupted my typing rhythm, as you can imagine. So I decided that was the last straw. Despite the expense, I went ahead and ordered the replacement keyboard. I found I could pay on a 3-month installment plan, which is nice, but not really making much difference since I don’t expect to get much if any new income until 3-4 months from now, unless one or two pending things pan out within that time frame (or unless a lot more people finally start backing my Patreon). Still, I figured I didn’t really have a choice. How did I know the E key would keep working at all? I can’t be a writer with only 25 letters! (And yes, I know there have been whole novels written without the letter E, but that’s not an option for someone who writes about the starships Enterprise and Arachne, Troubleshooter Green Blaze, and the Tangent Knights.)

So I went ahead and ordered the new keyboard… and then I somehow managed to get the old one’s E key to work pretty much normally again, though I’m not sure whether it was by finally clearing whatever debris was sticking it or just by pushing down on it long enough to do… something or other. (It ended up permanently lower than the other keys, which had also happened to the T key a few years before.) Still, I couldn’t be sure it would last, so I didn’t cancel the order for the replacement.

I was initially told that the expected arrival date was Tuesday, but then I was notified that it had shipped and would be here Saturday (yesterday). It arrived yesterday afternoon, and it proved a simple matter to plug it in and start using it. The instructions said to turn the computer off first, but I wasn’t sure how that would work with plugging it into my laptop, and I figured maybe it was an outdated instruction that was no longer necessary. So I just plugged it into my active laptop, and the driver installed with no problem. I was using it within moments.

Though it’s the same model, it’s a bit more advanced, with a USB connector this time, so I no longer need the adaptor. The cord comes out further to the right, so it no longer goes into the cord clip built into my desk’s roll-out keyboard tray. But that’s fine, since it’s a heavy keyboard that doesn’t slide around anyway. Other than the brand logo being in a different place, it’s otherwise exactly the same as the previous one, except all the keys work normally.

Which is great, since I don’t have to adjust to a new layout. All my old comfortable typing reflexes still apply. The only habit I’ll have to unlearn is my expectation to struggle with the left touchpad key. Although I’m still getting used to the new touchpad, whose sensitivity is a little different than the old one. Sometimes it seems to need a bit more pressure applied to start responding, yet paradoxically, sometimes I accidentally select something when I think I’m just hovering over it and not pressing hard enough to engage. And I probably need to relearn that left-clicking may be a better option sometimes than tapping the pad.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the first thing I did with the old keyboard after plugging in the new one was to pop out a few of the keys to see if I could clean the crevices between/under them. I was always afraid to try that before, since I didn’t know if they were designed to be detachable. Turns out they are, and if I’d know that all along, I could’ve kept the crevices/contacts cleaner and probably kept using it longer. But I still can’t figure out whether the left touchpad key is detachable for cleaning, and that was my biggest problem. Plus cleaning the contacts wouldn’t have helped with the worn-out letters and the glitchy connection. At least I know that I’ll be able to clean out the new keyboard when necessary. Though I wish it were one of those newer models with an integrated surface so you don’t have to worry about crumbs or hairs getting under the keys.

But hey, my previous keyboard lasted through almost 15 years of heavy usage with poor maintenance. Hopefully this one will last even longer.

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Laptop followup: No joy

I just got back from a trip to Best Buy (through whom I ordered my refurbished laptop) to see if they could help me get my headphone/speaker jack working. I would’ve done it days ago, but I’ve been a bit under the weather. According to the tech guy there, the fact that the laptop doesn’t shut down its own speakers when a device is plugged into the jack means it’s not even reading the jack, which is a hardware problem rather than a software problem. Which is very bizarre, because it’s a huge coincidence that a hardware malfunction would happen at the same time I swapped out the hard drive for a new one. Unless I jarred something loose during all the flipping over of the laptop to get to the underside, or something.

Anyway, they said they’d have to send it out for a week or more to get it repaired, and I can’t afford to be without it that long. There is another place about a half-hour’s drive north of me that might have the parts in stock, but the guy suggested (I think, if I understood him right) that I could also get an RCA-to-USB adapter and plug my speakers into the USB port, which seems simpler. Unfortunately the guy said they didn’t sell them there, which seems odd. I looked around when I got home to see if, by lucky chance, I already had one, but I don’t appear to. So I guess I need to get hold of one. That probably shouldn’t be too hard.

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Laptop II: So far, so good…

After I hit a snag with the expired activation key on my replacement hard drive the last time, the refurbishers sent me another key, so I once again wielded my screwdriver to uninstall the old hard drive and put in the new one… only to find that the key I’d been sent used a letter that was disabled during installation, don’t ask me why. So I swapped back to the old drive yet again and informed them of the problem. I got a third key promptly, this one with no disabled letters, but after two failed starts (and an inadequate night’s sleep), I just didn’t feel up to trying again right away. But today, I finally went ahead and reinstalled the new one yet again.

This time, the activation key worked fine… and I found I didn’t need the MS Office activation code, because apparently Office was pre-installed on this drive and I just had to re-enter my e-mail and password. So that saved me some trouble. Then it was a matter of installing all the other basics — antivirus, e-mail client, browsers, Acrobat, and a couple of my other most-used programs, along with Windows security updates. I’m now basically functional again, and it took only about 3 1/2 hours. I still have a few nonessentials to install, but they can wait.

I have noticed a couple of odd things, though. Like, when I installed new programs and tried to put their icons on the taskbar or desktop, they didn’t show up right away, though they did after I rebooted. And there have been a couple of times when I’ve minimized and re-expanded Firefox and the buttons in the top right corner have either vanished or been replaced with fatter buttons. I really hope these aren’t warning signs of something wrong with the new drive or its software. This is my third hard drive from this refurbisher in the year and seven months (almost to the day) since I bought this laptop. I really want this one to work!!

EDIT: Annnd…  there’s already a problem. The headphone/speaker jack won’t work anymore. Hoo boy.

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Laptop: Good news and bad news

Well, since I had a lull between other projects, I decided that today was the day I would finally go ahead and replace the iffy hard drive I’ve been using with the second replacement drive the refurbisher sent me after the first replacement crashed.

First off, though, I decided to try reinstalling the crashed drive, just on the off chance that I could get it working long enough to back up the files I hadn’t backed up at the time of its crash. I wasn’t really expecting this to work, so imagine my surprise when it started up perfectly normally! I wasn’t willing to trust in that, though, so I hastened to back things up onto my thumb drive. The recovered files aren’t anything really urgent, just a handful of pictures and personal documents, but it’s a relief to have them back.

So then I put in the new drive and tried to start it up — and I hit a pretty big snag. The drive came “imaged” with the same Windows 7 copy as the previous drives, so it had the same activation key — but what I didn’t realize was that I apparently had to use that key within 30 days of getting it, and it’s been something like twice that now. I guess I’ll have to contact the refurbisher and ask if they can reset it or something.

In the meantime, I’m making do with the original drive, which has been working mostly fine for the past couple of months, though I don’t know how much I can rely on that. Wish me luck.

Shore Leave is coming up again!

Hey, everyone. Once again, I haven’t been keeping up with blogging… Other matters have been preoccupying me, including a side job I just finished for a little extra income, transcribing a book-length SF-fanzine memoir from the ’40s into a Word document for a colleague, which was rather time-consuming.

Anyway, I needed the extra funds because it’s getting close to that time of year again. The Shore Leave convention will be held in about 4 weeks, from July 7-9, 2017, at the usual venue of the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, MD. This year’s guests include Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn! As usual, I’ll be on a few panels about various things, though the schedule isn’t finalized, and of course I’ll be at the Friday night Meet the Pros signing event and spend some time signing at the book vendor’s table. Whether I’ll have any new writing projects to talk about at the con remains to be seen; I’m hopeful something will break in the next few weeks, but there’s no way to be sure. At least my new DTI novella, Shield of the Gods, will be out by then. (Oddly, Amazon’s best-seller category trackers have it doing well under “Religion and Spirituality,” subsection “Personal Growth,” subsections “Men’s Personal Growth” and “Philosophy.” I guess they’re getting that from an overly literal interpretation of the title, and there is a reference in the blurb to the characters facing a personal challenge, so I guess this is the result of some kind of computer algorithm; but where do they get the “Men’s” part from?)

So that means there are things I need to take care of over the next few weeks. I need to get my car checked out to make sure it’s safe for the long drive. And I need to replace my laptop hard drive. See, when I got this refurbished laptop, the hard drive was making an intermittent clicking noise and sometimes wouldn’t start up, and I was told it might be damaged and unstable, so I contacted the refurbishers and they sent me a replacement. That replacement worked okay until a couple of months ago when it crashed, so I went back to the original, iffy drive until they could send me another replacement. I got that one weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off the switch because the iffy drive has been mostly working okay, and because I’ve had work I wanted to get done first. Mainly just because I hate going through the rigmarole of setting up a new hard drive, reinstalling and reauthorizing everything, etc., having to spend most of a day getting it all done. But on the other hand, the risk that the current drive might crash is a more long-term source of worry, so I should probably just get it over with. And I definitely should do it before Shore Leave, so I don’t have to worry about my hard drive crashing on me while I’m on my trip. (Assuming the second replacement actually works, which I shouldn’t take as a given considering how the first two turned out. If I could afford it, I’d just buy a whole new computer rather than gambling with this one.)

THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN is done!

February 1, 2016 2 comments

Hey, all. I’m still here. I’ve been kind of preoccupied with a few things this month, mainly finishing up Star Trek: The Original Series: The Face of the Unknown, which I’ve just sent off to my editor. I think it’s turned out very well, especially considering that I had all those computer problems delaying me over the past few months. Fortunately the writing went smoothly for the most part; I actually finished the first draft early, but then I realized there were some additional story threads I needed to add, and it’s taken me until last night to get those sorted out.

As for my computer, it’s been working quite smoothly so far. I’ve got just about everything up and running as it should, and I haven’t had any trouble since I finished reinstalling stuff on the replacement hard drive. I’m thinking I should look into getting a backup drive that I can clone or image my drive to on a regular basis, so that it would be easier to restore if something else goes wrong. But I’ve never really figured out how to do backups beyond just copying my documents onto removable media. (Which used to mean whole boxes full of floppy disks, and now means a tiny plastic stick in my pocket. We live in the future!)

I’ve also been working my way through a rewatch of classic Doctor Who, as I mentioned before. I’m getting near the end of the William Hartnell era now, which means I’m going to be watching a lot of reconstructions of missing episodes for a while. Though I am getting the DVD of the restored “The Tenth Planet” through interlibrary loan. I’ve only just figured out how to extend my search to other Ohio libraries and request materials from them, which has let me track down some things I could never find otherwise. That also includes some of the non-Godzilla kaiju films I’ve been looking for, so you can expect the return of my Toho review series in the near future. (Sorry it didn’t occur to me to do Doctor Who reviews. I don’t think I’d have the time anyway.)

Now that I’m done with my Trek novel, I’m hoping to spend the next month or so working on original short fiction, hopefully including at least one new Hub story. Although I’ve already been delayed getting to that by my computer problems, so I hope nothing else comes up to divert me.

In the more immediate term, I should probably go for a walk today. We’re getting a spell of unseasonably warm weather hereabouts, after a bitter cold snap last week. Although in this age of climate change, we’ll probably have to throw out our past ideas of what’s unseasonable.

Speaking of which, I should probably take my car in for some maintenance soon. Over the past month, it’s had trouble getting started in cold weather — that is, the engine starts, but the car initially resists moving when I step on the gas. The first time it happened, I thought something must be obstructing the wheels, but nothing was. The resistance to acceleration gradually subsides, though it takes a couple of blocks to get back to normal. I figure some kind of lubricant must be depleted or in need of changing, though it seems to work okay in warmer weather or after a short enough interval of non-use. (I generally only drive once or twice a week.)

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.

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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.

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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…

At last…

I’m pleased to say that I got my outline advance for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown yesterday, just four days after getting my second royalty check for Only Superhuman (which was much smaller, but decent). So I’m now in a relatively more comfortable place financially than I’ve been in for several months.

Which is good, since I’m still probably going to need a new laptop. I thought I’d gotten to a point where the laptop worked fine so long as I didn’t open Firefox, since the freezes only seemed to happen in sessions (i.e. intervals between reboots) during which I’d earlier used Firefox to watch something on Netflix. But this week I’ve had a couple of freezes in Chrome, even though I haven’t used Firefox in some time. In one case, it was when I tried closing a tab, which was what tended to set it off in the earlier freezes; in the other, it was when I hit stop and reload on a page that was hanging. If there’s a common thread, it may have something to do with trying to interrupt unfinished processes. Then again, in both cases I had several programs running at once — and in both cases it was after having hibernated the laptop overnight instead of shutting it down, if that matters. If this is a memory problem, as I suspect, it may be that I was using too much memory and forced the computer to access a bad part of the RAM, or use too many resources, or something.

Anyway, now that I have the money, I guess buying a new laptop isn’t as onerous an option as it seemed before — though I’m still not sure where the best place to shop would be (and I’m open to suggestions from anyone in the Cincinnati area). Still, I think that just for due diligence, I should go to the repair place I’ve been to before (not the same as the place I bought the laptop) and at least get their opinion about the problem and whether it’s worth trying to fix. I do need some way to watch Netflix reliably soon, what with Marvel’s Jessica Jones about to arrive.

If anything, these latest freezes simplify my decision a bit. Before, it seemed that the laptop was functional for everything but streaming video, and I’d been planning to look into whether adding a tablet to my phone plan or buying an Internet-capable TV would cost less than getting a new laptop. Now at least I know that I’m going to need my laptop either repaired or replaced, period. (Although I’d still like to get a new TV sometime.)

On the plus side, I finally found a solution for a minor domestic annoyance I’ve had for a long time. Since my apartment is at ground level and overlooking a row of shrubs, and since the groundskeepers are profligate in their use of (very noisy) leafblowers, my windows and balcony doors tend to accumulate a coat of fine dirt, and when I have my bedroom window open in the summer, some of it gets onto the sills and the Venetian blinds. And keeping Venetian blinds clean is not easy, especially since I’m not all that diligent about dusting. But a while ago, it idly occurred to me to wish I could just take them down and dump them in the detergent-filled bathtub. I had no idea if there was a way to take them down without tools of some sort, though, so it remained an idle thought — until yesterday, when I got sufficiently sick of the problem to look into just how the blinds were attached to the windows. I finally discovered that the brackets holding them had front panels that could slide out, and once that was done, the blinds came out easily. It wasn’t exactly easy to wash them thoroughly, but it was easier than it would’ve been if I’d left them in place. So now, finally, I have clean blinds again.

Things are starting to look up a bit…

The best news this week: Not only did I deposit my final advance check for DTI: Time Lock yesterday, but I was just informed that my outline for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown has been approved and the check is already being processed. I’m glad not only because I need the money, but because my plan was to devote October to original projects and then begin on TFOTU in November, but we’re not supposed to start writing the manuscripts until the outlines are approved. So now I’ll be able to stick with that plan. At the moment I’m proofreading the galleys for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code, but I’ll get to TFOTU as soon as that’s done. (Although I didn’t get as much done on original projects as I’d hoped, what with my computer issues and illness and some still-unresolved problems with a story I was trying to salvage.)

I also finally got my replacement watchband the other day. It’s taking some getting used to, but it’s working okay. And because of the mixup, the company sent me a second band as a bonus, so I have a replacement for this one if anything should happen to it. Although it’s a pretty sturdy nylon band, so I doubt I’ll need a replacement anytime soon.

I made my first foray into laptop shopping yesterday, but I basically learned that it might be more challenging than I thought to find a reasonably priced model that has the software I need. The place I got my current laptop installs MS Office and a few other programs for no extra charge, but I don’t trust them anymore, certainly not after their 90-dollar “repair” did nothing to fix the problem and just made the performance worse overall. But apparently Staples laptops just come with Windows and nothing else, although you do get a discount if you buy Office along with them. Still, I need to try other possibilities. There are the obvious big stores like Best Buy to consider, but are those really the best options, especially for someone on a budget? The local place did have some appealing qualities, like the free software installation; it’d be nice to find some similar local shop in the Cincinnati area that’s more reliable.

In the wake of the useless “repair,” my laptop is now even worse at playing streaming video than it was before. Hulu is very jerky on Chrome, and ever since I let the computer upgrade Flash the other day, Firefox won’t play Hulu at all, since the Flash just crashes. I should probably just uninstall Flash and rely on HTML5, which is what people recommend online, but I’m not sure what the right way to do that is. Anyway, for now I’m effectively Hulu-less, which is a problem since there are a few shows this week that I skipped watching live because I expected to be able to watch them via On Demand cable, but the On Demand channel isn’t updating this week for some reason. I’m almost to the point of trying to watch Hulu on my tiny smartphone screen and seeing if that works. (If only I’d accepted the phone store’s limited-time offer to get a tablet along with the phone for an extra 50 bucks.) Or I could just try living with the jerky picture.

I’m still having the occasional freeze-up of my laptop. The last time it happened, I checked and confirmed that the hard-drive light was not on at all. Based on the searches I’ve done, that suggests that the freeze may be related to a hardware problem with the RAM, a bad sector or connection or something. I’ve been thinking of taking it in to the local repair shop (not the same as the place I bought it) and seeing if they can fix the RAM — and maybe install some more to improve my video-streaming performance. But I hesitate to spend money on a repair that may not work or that may just lead to the conclusion that I need to buy a new laptop anyway.

Granted, with my check coming in soon, I don’t need to be so reticent about spending money anymore. But I don’t want to spend too profligately either. I’m still feeling kind of burned after throwing away 90 bucks on a non-solution. That’s why I made sure to approach my Staples visit as a purely factfinding expedition. I’m not very good at making on-the-spot decisions, and a couple of times now (with my watch and the laptop) I’ve let store clerks talk me into choices that turned out to be the wrong ones. So I want to make sure I consider all the possibilities before deciding what to do about laptops. Which means I may be stuck with this one for a while longer. I just hope it holds up.

Health report

October 25, 2015 5 comments

Physical health: Perhaps inevitably, I seem to have picked up a nasty cold at Books by the Banks, so I’ve been trying to rest all week and have plenty of tea with honey, chicken soup, etc. I haven’t been able to focus much on writing. I’m also behind on my laundry, both from not being physically up to it and not having enough quarters.

Computer health: My computer’s been mostly running okay with Vista, although some sites like Facebook and io9 sometimes show up weirdly in Chrome, with bits of text and picture appearing like patchwork in the wrong places. I can clear it up by hitting Ctrl-A to highlight the whole page and then clearing the selection. Firefox works okay as long as I just use it for Netflix streaming (I’m nearing the end of a Leverage binge-rewatch). But yesterday, my computer froze while I was in Chrome, the first time that’s happened. The freezes seem to happen when I start to load something, though I can’t lock down just what sort of thing is triggering it. This time, it was when I followed a Facebook link to some news site. It may have been an ad or script on that site that triggered it. Anyway, it drives home that I still can’t trust my laptop. But the new mail client is working fine, at least. And fortunately that part where my keyboard caught fire while I was using it turned out to be a dream.

EDIT: Okay, I just had a second freeze in Chrome. It happened when I tried to close a tab containing an article I’d opened from Facebook. Come to think of it, that may be what happened last time too, since I have a visual memory of the cursor freezing up at the top of the screen. In both cases, then, it would mean that I had Facebook itself open in the first tab and I was trying to close the article in a second tab and go back to the Facebook tab. So could Facebook be the common thread somehow? Perhaps I should avoid going there except on my phone. Or at least avoid opening links from there.

Financial health: One of my overdue Star Trek writing advances is finally on its way to me, and I’m told that the other, larger advance I’ve been awaiting should be coming soon. So hopefully I’ll be able to buy a new laptop before much longer.

Career health: Hard to say. I just submitted my spec novel to an editor I’d really like to work with, but it’ll probably be a long time before I get a reaction to it, since editors are busy people. I’m still waiting for answers about another project I’m hoping to pursue.

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Oh, for crying out loud…

October 19, 2015 3 comments

Remember how I sent my watch to the manufacturer for a new band and they had it for a month without fixing it? Remember how I ordered a new band from an online company? Well, I got my order today… and they sent the wrong band. My order number ended in 19, and they enclosed the band and receipt that went with the next order, the one ending in 20, which is the wrong size and color. Now I have to find out how to send it back. I wonder if the person this band was meant for got my band instead, or if this mixup extends beyond just the two of us (e.g. everybody in a certain stretch getting the order one digit above theirs). In any case, I still have to go that much longer before I can finally start wearing the right watch again.

Although this is a minor frustration after the day I’ve had wrestling with e-mail clients. First off, I finally figured out how to restore my entire Thunderbird profile from backup, complete with Gmail login info, RSS feeds, the works. But then Thunderbird froze up my computer the same way Firefox (also from Mozilla) has been doing. Okay, not terrible, since I was planning to replace Thunderbird with a different client anyway. I just wanted everything loaded into it so I could import the data into whatever I replaced it with. So I looked around for free options and decided to try Opera Mail, since I used to like the Opera browser. But I couldn’t get it to import all my data. It dumped all my incoming mail from various folders in Thunderbird into a single folder, and it didn’t seem to import my outgoing mail at all. I went looking online for info about how to deal with that issue, and found that apparently it’s impossible to get Opera Mail to import Thunderbird’s folder structure. So scratch Opera Mail. A couple of sites recommended eM Client, so I decided to try that. Lo, it imported my Thunderbird data quite easily, although it doesn’t handle RSS feeds. But for some reason, while I was checking my mail from my main e-mail account, it all got deleted from the server. (I know because I still had my browser open to the webmail page — it’s what I’ve been using in lieu of a reliable client.) Not to worry, it’s all downloaded into eM Client, but I no longer have a backup of it on the server and can’t read the old e-mails on my phone anymore. I’ve contacted the help line to see if there’s any way to undo the deletion, and hopefully I’ve adjusted the client’s settings so it won’t do that again. I think I can provisionally say my e-mail quest has had a tolerable outcome, but it was frustrating getting there.

I don’t know why it is that computers make me so angry and stressed when they misbehave. Maybe because there’s no person to react to and thus no incentive for self-restraint. Maybe my lack of computer savvy leaves me feeling lost and out of control, and I’ve always dealt very badly with that feeling. Or maybe it’s because I’ve become so dependent on my computer, so I’m terrified at the prospect of its failure. I’m starting to see the value of having multiple devices linked in a “cloud.” It leaves you less at the mercy of a single device’s vagaries.

So after dealing with my e-mail and watchband frustrations, I decided to clear my head by going for a walk, including a trip up to the nearby shoe store to get some new socks. And of course, they were out of the type and size I wanted. And the only other clothing stores in walking distance are specialty shops that don’t carry just plain white socks. Of course — why should anything go right for me today?

Well… a nice-looking young woman smiled at me in the park during my walk. So there’s that, at least.

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I hate computers, and I think it’s mutual

October 16, 2015 7 comments

I posted last month about my computer problems. Since then, I’ve been living with the laptop’s shortcomings as best I could, but this week, I finally decided to take it in to the shop where I’d bought it four years ago, since I had the impression I could maybe get free maintenance there. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back there, since they haven’t given me a lot of reason to trust in their knowledge or resources in the past. But I was desperate enough to give it a try, and the guy convinced me that I might still be having problems from the malware that infected the laptop a couple of years ago and that I went to another place to clean up. He said the only solution was to wipe the whole thing and reinstall Windows from scratch. I had recently bought a large enough thumb drive to back up my documents and application data, just in case, so I agreed to let him do that, even though it would cost 89 dollars. I asked them not to install Avast as the antivirus, because I had a suspicion it was causing a lot of my problems.

When I got it back, it turned out that they’d upgraded my Windows XP to Vista without asking, since the laptop could run either and nobody supports XP anymore. According to my cousin on Facebook, Vista’s a lousy version of Windows, but I’m kinda stuck with it now. They also didn’t have any antivirus available other than Avast, which they assured me was safe in the stripped-down free version they install, so I reluctantly agreed to let them install that and see what happened. It actually does seem to lack the particular avastSvc.exe application that was demanding so many resources from my CPU before. Still, they waited until just before closing time to tell me their credit-card machine was broken and I’d have to pay cash. If they’d told me when they started to install the antivirus, I could’ve gone to the ATM and back before they closed. Instead, I had to come back the next morning to pay.

And I needed to, because the computer worrisomely rebooted itself spontaneously a few hours after I got it back. I hoped the guy could diagnose the problem, but all he could tell me was that he’d done a hardware check and found no problems. I also later discovered that the scroll bar on the side of my laptop’s touchpad no longer works, although the one on my main keyboard that I plug into the laptop when working at home is still working. At least it hasn’t spontaneously rebooted again.

But last night, Firefox froze my computer again, just like it was doing before. The 89-dollar reinstallation did not fix the main problem I needed it to fix. Even though it’s a completely new installation of Windows and Firefox and everything, the same problem is happening. And apparently their warranty only covers hardware, not software or labor, so I don’t think getting my money back is an option. Which sucks, since my latest novel advance check is overdue and money’s a bit tight for me at the moment. Which is why I’m not just buying a new laptop — though I’m starting to seriously think about it anyway.

Although the freeze didn’t seem to happen until I upgraded to the latest edition of Flash. I’ve heard that Flash is a bad program and should be removed, but I’m not sure how to do that, and several sites were giving me error messages about disabling the outdated Flash that came with the install, so I figured it would work as a stopgap, at least. Now I’m wondering if it caused the freeze, given the timing. But it could be coincidence. Anyway, I need to figure out how to uninstall Flash. I gather that Firefox is supposed to natively support HTML5 to play videos and that I don’t need Flash anyway. But some pages seem to say that there are sites that still use Flash by default and you have to do something or other to force them to use HTML5 and it’s all just so confusing!

Indeed, the whole reason I took it to the shop was because all this computer stuff is confusing to me and I hoped they would have the knowledge to fix my software problems for me. Instead, they just fell back on a few basic, broad-strokes moves, and I’m now slightly worse off than I was before. I don’t think I’d gain anything by going back there to ask for more help. I gave up on that place a long time ago and it was only in desperation that I tried going back there again, and it turned out poorly.

Granted, there was also the problem with the Thunderbird mail client erasing my outgoing mails, which may or may not have been fixed (I haven’t gotten around to testing it) — but I’ve decided I need to get a different client anyway, or just rely on webmail. Thunderbird has never gotten along with Gmail, and I can’t even remember the trick I used to get it to accept my Gmail account the first time. I’ve frequently been getting “invalid certificate” error boxes when Thunderbird tries to access my Gmail account (which I hardly use anyway, except as my logon for Google sites and cloud memory) and it’s very frustrating, because they keep cropping up despite every attempt to get the program to “permanently store this exception.” Plus Thunderbird seems to be demanding a lot of CPU usage. I’ve tried looking into alternative mail client programs, ones I can get for free, but I haven’t quite settled on a good one. (I wish Eudora were still around. That was my preferred client for a long time.)

So in short, my computer problems have not been fixed. I still don’t trust Firefox, and Netflix and Hulu videos play even worse on Chrome than they did before the reinstall. Ideally I need a new laptop, but in the meantime I’d appreciate any advice my readers could offer.

As if the computer woes weren’t bad enough, I’ve been dealing with other frustrations lately too. I finally found out that the watch manufacturer hadn’t repaired my watch band yet because they couldn’t find a replacement. I knew that type of band was no longer being sold separately, but I saw that new watches with that band were still being sold, so I expected the manufacturer would be able to supply a band or maybe just substitute a new watch. But they’d gotten nowhere, so I just asked them to send my watch back as it was. I got it back a week later, with the band even more broken than before (in transit, I guess). And I shopped online for a replacement band. The ones the company still offers for that model are the same kind of resin band that I disliked on my old watch (which I’ve been wearing as a stopgap for the past month or so) because they’re so fragile and prone to breakage — which makes no sense, because it’s supposed to be a super-durable, shock-resistant watch. The one I had before was a nylon band, but with resin attachments to the watch body, and it was the resin part that split. So I went shopping for nylon bands of the right size from different manufacturers, and I’ve ordered one that looks pretty good, though it won’t merge as smoothly with the “lugs” of the watch (the sticky-out metal bits that the band attaches to). I’m still waiting for that to arrive.

Also, I’ve been trying to rework an old, unsold original story for the umpteenth time. I’d given up on it years ago, but since I was able to salvage and sell a couple of other old unsold stories in the past couple of years (“The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” and the upcoming “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”), I figured maybe I could save this one too. But so far, it’s still frustrating me. I was trying to tighten it up, both to make it flow better and to make it short enough for markets with a 10,000-word cutoff, but my attempts to combine scenes somehow ended up adding length, so I didn’t trim as much as I’d hoped. I tried cutting out the first scene and starting deeper in the story, but the new first scene has too much telling and not enough showing, and it needs a lot of work to function as an opening. Last night, I decided to abandon it and move on to another project. But maybe that was just my depression about the computer talking, because this morning, I thought of some fixes that might work. Still, it’s an iffy proposition, and I’m not in a great mood to tackle it right now.

Well, tonight is a reception for the author guests of Books by the Banks, and the public event is tomorrow. Hopefully getting to meet some of my fellow authors and readers will cheer me up.

I’m still here…

September 22, 2015 3 comments

Wow, I haven’t posted in over a month! Sorry about that. What have I been up to this past month? Let’s see…

Mostly I’ve been writing my DTI novella Time Lock, which I finished last week. It was rather involved, because the premise entails some complicated timey-wimey stuff that required a fair amount of math. Not very complicated math — I’m not up to that — but just a single formula that I had to apply scene-by-scene to keep track of certain interrelationships. I also had to read a bunch of scenes aloud after writing them and time them on a stopwatch. The reasons for this will become clear when the story is published. Let’s just say I’ve found a way to play with time that Star Trek has almost never used before, certainly not in this way. I’m rather pleased with how the story turned out, but it was hard work getting there. I’m also pleased that the story gave me the opportunity to pick up on a thread or two from one of my older Trek novels — and to fix a continuity error I discovered in my own prior work.

After that, I reviewed the copyedits for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code, which I just finished yesterday. Dealing with copyedits can be frustrating. Copyeditors… well, their job is to focus on grammar and usage, but sometimes they forget that spoken dialogue isn’t always grammatically perfect, and that trying to make it so can rob characters of their individual voices. Some copyeditors also tend to be too intolerant of repeated words. Sometimes it’s good to avoid repeating a word or phrase within the same couple of lines, sometimes it’s redundant, but sometimes repetition is a valuable device. Sometimes repetition is for emphasis. Sometimes repetition is for rhythm. Sometimes repetition is just the way people talk. Sometimes… okay, point made.

There are also some really arbitrary grammatical preferences that copyeditors seem to think are actual rules, like insisting on “more than x items” rather than “over x items,” or on “the thing that is” rather than “the thing which is,” the latter being the way I happen to talk and write, a usage which is commonly found in countless older works of fiction but has somehow randomly come to be seen as inappropriate today.

So now I’m free of immediate deadlines. I still have to get started on my original-series Star Trek novel The Face of the Unknown, but I have enough leeway there that I can spend the next month or so focused on my original writing. I’m going to do one more pass on a spec novel I’m about to submit, then hopefully make some progress on a couple of original stories.

What else has been going on in my life? Well, my computer is acting up, and I’m far from competent to deal with it. Twice in one day, I had Firefox freeze my computer completely and force me to reboot by holding the power button down for five seconds until it shut down. I had a scare when the computer kept shutting off right after I tried turning it back on, eventually giving me a screen that let me restart it in “last safe mode” or something. I’ve been afraid to use Firefox since then and have been using Chrome, but I don’t like Chrome. I hate the way it won’t let me open a new tab in a foreground window. I don’t like it that there’s no good Chrome extension for toggling animated gifs on and off like there is for Firefox. And for some reason, I can’t get decent resolution watching Netflix streams on Chrome. (Although YouTube’s new video format doesn’t play right on Firefox — I hate the lack of a uniform standard for online video.)

Yesterday, though, something else happened — a file within my Avast antivirus program called avastSvc.exe was taking up 99 percent of my CPU usage and wouldn’t stop until I did another power-button forced reboot. (It’s possible that this was the real cause of my Firefox problems, though I’m not sure.) I looked into it, and while I gather there are some malware programs using that filename, I checked and this file is in the Avast directory where it belongs. Also, I couldn’t get Avast to open while it was running, meaning it probably is connected. I looked into some instructions about how to deal with the problem, but the thing about looking online for computer advice is that you tend to get multiple conflicting suggestions, and that just confuses me more. Yeah, I know I write science fiction for a living, but I’m really dumb when it comes to working with actual computers. I’ve never had an aptitude for electronics or programming or anything really practical or applied. I’m really not sure what to do, and I’m just hoping it doesn’t recur.

I’ve also been having a bit of a problem with my remote controls. I use a rather old Sony amplifier/receiver thingy to feed from my TV, DVD, etc. to my speakers, and the mute button has gotten increasingly unresponsive, so that I had to wrestle viciously with it to get it to mute the sound. And I’d never been able to get the universal remote that came with the cable box to work with the amplifier. So I looked into the problem online and found that there was a sneakily hidden, sort of easter-egg command I could use to switch a setting on the amplifier so that it would work with universal remotes, and yay, it worked! But then I discovered that the original remote no longer worked on that setting (some models of remote could be switched to that channel, but not this one), and I couldn’t use the universal remote to switch the input channels from, say, TV to DVD. I can only do that by manually pushing a button on the front of the amplifier now. Also, I have to remember to switch modes on the universal remote between controlling the cable box and controlling the volume. I’m adjusting to that, but the ideal would be to get the old remote working again. I looked into some online instructions for taking a remote apart and cleaning the contacts, but I couldn’t get the remote to come apart. I was able to pry it open on one end after a lot of trial and error, but I couldn’t get it open beyond that no matter how I tried. And buying a replacement online would cost 25-30 bucks. So I guess I’m stuck with the current state of affairs, which isn’t perfect but is better than it was.

Oh, yes, and my watch band broke. It’s a fabric band, but it’s plastic where it attaches to the watch, and I guess it got bent too far or too often at that point and split nearly all the way through. I looked for a replacement band online, but apparently the fabric bands have been discontinued, although you can still get new watches with them, which is bizarre. I could’ve gotten a latex band, but I don’t like those because they tend to break easily. So I took the watch back to where I’d bought it to see if they could get me a replacement band, and they sent it back to the manufacturer to get it repaired… and that was 16 days ago. I called last week, and apparently it only reached the manufacturer 5 days later. I haven’t heard anything back, and I’m getting annoyed. I’ve been wearing my previous watch, whose case and latex band are deteriorating, but which still tells the time well enough. I’m lucky its battery was still good after four years, though I think it’s borderline, since the display faded out when I held the buttons down to reset the time. Still, I want my current watch back. This wait is ridiculous. I probably could’ve just taken it to some other store that sells watch bands and found a suitable substitute much quicker than this.

Let’s see, I’ve also been getting a bit more exercise lately. I’d really let myself get sedentary this past few months, but I’m trying to change that. I put air back in my bike tires and have done a bit of riding. The other day, I walked down the really steep steps and hills to Findlay Market to get some fresh produce, then walked back up the longer and slightly less steep way, which was very tiring in my current out-of-shape condition — but I felt invigorated afterward, not just for the rest of the day but on following days as well. Also, last week, I drove over to the lake area in Burnet Woods — which is within walking distance, but I had other errands to run in that area and I just wanted to hang out in the park a bit first — and that was really pleasant. My little local park is okay, but the lake (well, large pond) and the woods around it are really a soothing environment. I think I should go there more often, and walk next time. In theory it’d be nice to ride my bike over there, but it’s somewhat downhill from here, and I know from experience that biking back up from that vicinity takes a lot out of me, far more than I could handle in my current condition. It’s a lot harder to bike uphill than to walk uphill.

Oh, and when I went down to Findlay Market, I saw that the downtown streetcar project is making good progress. There’s actually a streetcar maintenance building around there now, with side tracks that go around and through it, which is rather neat, like a miniature railroad depot. There are also streetcar stops in place on raised sections of the sidewalk, and the overhead wiring is in place along the part of the rails I saw. This is really happening! Though apparently it’s still about a year from completion, darn it.

The reason I went down to Findlay Market for produce — and on those errands last week — is because the local Kroger has closed for a year to get rebuilt into a bigger superstore, and I need to find other places to shop. There are a couple of other Krogers that aren’t too far away, but they’re far enough that I’d prefer closer options when practical — convenience stores, the pharmacy, that sort of thing. The nearest open Kroger is three times as far and doesn’t have as good a selection. There’s a slightly closer market, a former IGA that’s been taken over by a local co-op, but I don’t think it’s reopened yet. When it does, it might be my best option. Still, I saw the plans for the new local Kroger, and it’s going to be quite an improvement, particularly where parking is concerned, since the new lot will be on nearer side of the block and have an exit near the corner closest to my home, instead of the opposite corner where it is now. Hmm, I guess it and the streetcar will be opening around the same time.

I suppose I could talk about the TV shows I’ve been watching, but maybe I should save that for another post, covering the new fall shows and my thoughts on them, and maybe some other recent shows. I’ll just say that I’ve decided to work my way systematically through all of classic Doctor Who, instead of just borrowing DVDs randomly when I happened to find them at the library. The thing is, I want to do it on DVD whenever possible so I can watch the wonderfully in-depth bonus features they have, so it’s slow going — I’m still early in season 2. But I’ve decided I’m also going to watch the missing-episode reconstructions that can be found online, using the surviving audio and set photos. I’ve read the novelizations of those episodes, seen the surviving bits and pieces, but I’ve never watched the recons, so I’m finally starting to do that. The reconstruction of “Marco Polo,” the first missing serial, was terrific. The recons of the missing episodes of “The Reign of Terror” weren’t as good, but I think I prefer them to the Flash-animated recreations that were released with the DVD.

Well, I suppose that’s enough catching up for this morning. Especially since it’s now just after noon.

Oh, how about that… my computer’s clock is running over (or more than) five minutes ahead of the actual time. It often runs a minute or two fast, but five is unusual. I wonder if that’s a symptom of its problems.

My website is gone

I’m sorry to report that my former website at home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett has ceased to exist. I recently learned that Google’s crawler has been unable to access the site since March 19th, and I’ve had no more luck getting through. I contacted the ISP about it, and I got a boilerplate message saying that they’d decided to stop hosting webpages as of last December 1st and that they notified their subscribers of the change — which is weird, since not only did I never receive any such notification, but my site was working fine as recently as March 16th, when I last updated it. I asked them a followup question about this three days ago, but I haven’t yet received a reply.

Whatever the case, though, my site is apparently gone now. I’d actually been thinking about moving it already, since I’ve been having intermittent problems with it for months now, ranging from temporary downtime to malware infection. Also I recently got a notification that Google wasn’t prioritizing it in searches anymore because it wasn’t mobile-friendly. But I’d hesitated to move it, because my About the Author notes in my various published works over the years have been directing people to that site from the beginning, and I didn’t want them to find a dead link.

But now the decision’s been made for me. I no longer have a site, and I need to find a new host, ideally one with more up-to-date site creation software than I’ve been using. I’m open to suggestions. I’m considering the possibility of adapting my site content and reposting most of it here on Written Worlds, but I’m not yet sure if that’s the best option. (As a test, I’ve already done so with my bibliography, which you can find as a popup menu item under “About Christopher L. Bennett” at the top of the page.) I may post my annotations for Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic here as a stopgap, and perhaps do the same for Hub Space, whose annotations were up for all of three days before the end.

Word (Past) Perfect

I’m a creature of habit in many ways, and as such I’ve continued to use WordPerfect as my word processor of choice long after MS Word became the standard.  I even set my later editions of WP to the old-style keyboard command interface, since it’s what I was used to and what I preferred to the more Word-like interface of the later editions.  My editors all use Word, of course, but I habitually write my documents in WP format and then save them in RTF or DOC format before submitting them.  It’s not just a matter of what I’m used to; I also don’t like being forced to conform, so I resisted giving in to Microsoft along with everyone else.

But lately it’s been giving me problems, since the edition of WP I have is now a decade old and it’s having trouble integrating with modern software, or vice versa.  Ever since I got my new printer and its drivers were installed in WP, the program has frozen up for as long as a minute (or thereabouts) whenever I opened a new file.  And this past week, I discovered that certain documents in WP, ones with embedded images, were causing more problems for my computer, in one case preventing it from reawakening after hibernation and giving me a “corruption” error.  It was okay if I shut down fully and restarted, but keeping the program’s settings in a hibernation file (or whatever you call it) somehow made the system unstable.

So I figured it was time I stopped using that version of WP.  Now, I could’ve tried buying a newer edition of the same program, but that would’ve cost over 100 bucks, and its interface probably wouldn’t be that different from Word, which I already have installed anyway and have gotten somewhat used to using in the course of editing manuscripts in the past year or two (since there have been cases where I’ve been expected to edit using Word’s Track Changes feature).  Which meant I might as well just start using Word full-time.  So yes, I’ve finally been assimilated.

But I have to admit, so far it’s an improvement.  I’m still getting used to the interface, but it does have a lot of functions my decade-old WP didn’t, although it’s missing a couple of features that I’ll be sad to do without, and some of its quirks are annoying and inconvenient to me (for instance, if I set one folder to display files in date order with newest first, it displays the whole directory tree that way, instead of letting me do each one case-by-case).   The programs all load quickly, which is a major plus.  And I should finally be free of one persistent glitch that I tolerated in my WP program — namely, that it froze up whenever I tried to enter an ordinal number like “2nd” or “25th.”  It defaulted to shrinking the letters to a superscript, which is bizarre — who actually does that? — but when I tried to turn it off, it started freezing up. So I’ve had to train myself to either spell out ordinals or avoid them altogether.  Now I don’t have to do that anymore — though I still haven’t figured out how to turn off the automatic superscripting in Word.

Of course, I needed to convert some of my more elaborately formatted WP files to Word, notably my personal Star Trek chronology file, which is a pretty complicated set of tables with color coding and the like, so I was concerned that it wouldn’t be easy to convert to a new format.  I tried that once with an earlier edition of Word than I have now, and it didn’t work.  But fortunately, my current edition of Word was able to handle it, and I only needed to make some minor fixes to the document once I’d converted it.  So I’m pretty much good to go now.

Still… end of an era.

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