The Cursed Computer Returns

It’s baaack… and working. There is light at the end of the tunnel; my tablet PC is up and running and connecting to WiFi. Word, Scrivener and Kindle are reinstalled. Now I just have to restore my data and customizations.

Samanth Beiko, my freelance editor, has been nominated for an Aurora award for her debut novel, The Lake and the Library. It’s a YA story with elements of the supernatural. It will be fun having her edit my book; her voice is very different from mine. I’m totally pumped that she got nominated for such a prestigious award.

There is no Aurora for children’s books, so I will never get a look in the door. Sigh. But if my efforts at Self Publishing are a success, I will use my imprint to promote Science Fiction for middle grade readers.

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So far, it’s just a dream. But when I started writing a book, that was just a dream, too.

I’m also beta reading my sister’s novel, Switching, Switching, about a woman who has very strange experiences after a plane crash. It’s not published, it’s still undergoing revisions.

I’m trying to find time to read The Forever Song, the conclusion to Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden trilogy. I don’t usually do vampires, but I bought the first two from Julie in person at Central Canada Lit Fest and liked them so much that I picked up the hard-cover of the final instalment almost as soon as it came out. My timing was divine, Forever Song was released just as I was finishing Eternity Cure.

I don’t usually read three books at once. My usual style is to devour books at single sitting, even if it takes all night. I may have to put two of them down and do that. The beta-reading is harder to speed through, because of the need to make comments and because the writing is less fully edited, so somewhat rougher. Yet that’s the author that might be waiting anxiously to hear how it went. I know that feeling – it can be paralysing.

On top of all that, I am insanely busy with one of my other blogs. The Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol is my seasonal project each Spring. For ten or eleven years, I have been taking aerial photographs of the lake where I live as the ice goes out and passing them on to cottagers who wish to know when the summer season will begin. I started sending them by email, and it grew into a set of public albums at PhotoBucket. This year I hit on the idea of doing it as a blog, and it has been a spectacular success. With two thousand hits a day, and new followers signing on at a rate of about one per hour, I have a lot of email to read and chores to do.

The lake will melt soon, and then I’ll have more time for reading and writing.

The Case of the Cursed Computer

I didn’t know when she showed up on my doorstep how much trouble she would be. Small framed, Asus Slate kept her true capabilities under wraps. At first I was taken with her; the way she used Word was intoxicating…

Ah, nuts. I don’t think I can keep this up. Bought an ASUS Slate B121 a couple of years ago. Props to ASUSTek for getting Windows 7 Pro (64-bit, no less) running in a 12″ tablet. Real Microsoft Office apps, not dumbed down versions. This is the portable computer I always wanted. The large screen means I could prop it up portrait style and see a standard page at 85-90% zoom. Perfect for working on my novel.

The first problem was with input – the Bluetooth keyboard fell asleep every few seconds, and there was a stylus instead of a mouse, which I found to be an awkward combination. Tried a Bluetooth mouse, but conflicts. Tried wireless mouse, but running two radios was rough on battery life. Bought Logitech wireless keyboard with glidepad. Much better. Turned Bluetooth off, extended battery life a bit. That big screen really drains batteries – I might get three hours on a good day.

Shortly after the warranty ran out, the power supply failed, so I could not recharge it. Sent it away to ASUS; they fixed it for free, which was nice of them. While I was waiting, I tackled the battery issue by buying an XPAL power pack.  When the tablet came back, I found that the selection of included connectors did not include the one I needed. Located free tip on XPAL site, got it sent out. When I had all the adapters to connect the fancy battery to the fancy tablet, it turned out the battery was a dud. XPAL tech support said send it in. They didn’t say where, so I looked up their address on their website. Big mistake. Due to XPAL Power posting the wrong address on their Canadian mirror site, my defective battery spent Christmas in Modesto, California, caught in Santa’s blizzard. Eventually, it came back, and I got the proper address from XPAL and sent it again. To Irvine, California. After wasting weeks getting it to them, it was promptly replaced and life was wonderful. For a few weeks.

In the middle of a vacation, the Slate became unable to connect to WiFi. Any Wifi. It could pick up networks, but could not log on. Resetting and reloading the network adapter did not solve the problem. The solid state drive on the ASUS is small, and does not contain a restore partition. Restore DVDs are available from ASUS, but cost $50 plus shipping. Seems harsh. Complete factory reset accomplished nothing other than busting my Windows install back to a very old build that could not be modernized because no Windows Update because no Wifi. So now my tablet that used to work except for not being able to go online is completely crippled. I suspect that the radio transmitter failed, so that the tablet could sense networks, but not talk to them.

Got a second RMA and shipped Slate back to ASUSTek in Concord, Ontario, Canada. It never arrived. Canada Post says it has been delivered. In Concord, California, USA. Frankly, this amazes me. It was not supposed to leave the province, much less the country. How on Earth did it get into the US without a customs label or a valid American Zip Code? And why didn’t the US Postal Service notice that it was addressed to a Canadian address with a (very foreign looking) Canadian Postal Code? And where exactly did they deliver it? Surely there is not an identical street name and number in the wrong city in the wrong country!

Naturally, I found all this out on the cusp of a four-day weekend. Maybe I will have calmed down a little by the time the post office resumes answering the phone on Tuesday. Maybe.

 

Weekend in Mexico

I’m sitting by the beach in Puerto Vallarta today. We had not planned to visit Mexico this winter, but the brutal and endless cold changed our minds. Besides, it was Caroline’s birthday yesterday and our anniversary today or tomorrow, depending on how you reckon things when it is not a leap-year.

Although we have some time constraints, we found that we could come down for just a few days if we flew on WestJet, making the southbound trip via Calgary on Thursday, and returning directly to Winnipeg on Monday.  So Caroline got airline food for her birthday dinner!

The trip has been reasonably uneventful – planes were both running about quarter of an hour late.  Immigration and Customs in PVR were both free of queues.  We were a little too hasty disembarking our taxi at the Hilton, and left our one carry-on bag in the back of  the cab.  Much gnashing of Caroline’s teeth ensued, but our hotel security chief took us to review the security cam recording, enabling us to confirm that the bag was not lifted from the lobby.  A phone call to our WestJet rep resulted in the taxi returning with the overlooked bag (and a manager from the cab company).  Reunited with her tablet, her winter jacket and her Ventalin(tm), Caroline’s mood recovered.

A few words about the hotel.  Sidenote: although I am a regular contributor to Trip Advisor, I do not review hotels there, as Caroline works for a Best Western, and this might give the appearance of bias.  So on Trip Advisor, I only review restaurants and attractions.  In my blog, I comment on hotels, but I do not grade them.  Anyway, back to the Hilton in Puerto Vallarta.  Caroline likes that it’s not huge, as she is directionally challenged.  If you are looking for a place with vast pool areas and nightclubs, this is not for you.  It is an all-inclusive resort, and it is not of the same scale as say, the Riu or the Paladium.  The buffet restaurant is more modest, for instance.  On the other hand, they have not turfed me for hogging a table near the poolside to set up my tablet and blog.  I use a 12″ tablet PC (Asus Slate) with a nearly full-sized keyboard, so I stand out from the herds with their i-Pads.  This makes me look like either a serious writer or a serious dork geek.

Regular readers of my blog, and there are nearly a handful, will recall that I am prone to going for a walk in the morning.  Today, we walked down the main road as far as the Mega store, about half an hour each way.  This took us past the Villa del Palmar, a hotel we stayed at once in the past.  It has been a long time since this part of Vallarta was in the sticks, but we remember when the Pemex gas station was a temporary facility on a dirt lot with the fuel in tank-stands.  I do not have the cable to connect my phone, but I will try to remember to post a picture of the hotel’s driveway.  It is adorned with a row of fake golden boulders with just a faintly discernible face engraved on each one.  From the back, they look like baked potatoes standing on end, so I have christened the street ‘Avenida de los Papas’.

Avenue of the Baked Potatoes

Avenue of the
Baked Potatoes

Stand by for more info on the food and wine.  I do not have much hope for the latter, as all-inclusive hotels in Mexico usually have to control costs by offering modest Argentine or Chilean house wines (some kind of South American free trade agreement makes it hard for Mexican wines to compete.  If only US wines were allowed to undercut Canadian ones like that!)  The sushi  bar is supposed to be good, and that makes sense given the availability of fresh seafood here, but it makes me marvel at how small the world has become.  All food is ‘fusion food’ now.  It always was, I suppose, going back to when the Italians adopted tomatoes from the Americas.  Apparently the notion that Marco Polo brought pasta back from China is more legend than fact, or I would bang my gavel and rest my case.  But hey, Swiss Chocolate – that’s from the new world, too. Continue reading

A Far-ranging Education

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When I was trying to summarize my life for the About Tim page, I got thinking about how my education took place all over the planet, and how that made me the person and the writer I am. Snort. As a writer, I like to describe myself as a reject. I have reached that awkward stage where I have to send query letters to agents, a process about as satisfying as printing out the whole thing and throwing it off  a cliff. But I don’t plan to blog about my book much. Back to the education part. I don’t remember much about my first school except that it was called Saint Andrews and I learned there that I cannot dance, which is useful information. I was only there for one year  before dad took a sabbatical at Scripps Institute in San Diego and I had the pleasure of attending Grade 2 in an American school. A keen young teacher there ran a remedial reading class and I was placed in it. I owe her and Doctor Seuss a lot: I learned that books could make me laugh, and I have never looked back. To this day, if someone laughs while reading, I have to know the reason. When we returned to England, I devoured children’s books by the library shelf full. Doctor Doolittle and Professor Branestawm were early favourites. Meanwhile, I attended Plymouth College Preparatory School for Boys. See photo above. They taught me to write with a dip pen and when I had mastered that, (Report Card comment:”Timothy’s handwriting looks as if a spider fell into the inkwell and crawled out on the page to die”) a cartridge pen. Then at the age of nine, I moved to Canada, specifically Winnipeg, home of the newly created Freshwater Institute. What they wanted an oceanographer for, I cannot imagine, but Dad managed to make himself useful as a water chemist and a chemical methodologist. The South end of Winnipeg was growing at a furious pace in the sixties and schools were popping up like toadstools. I attended grade five in St. Avila, then grade six in Fort Richmond Collegiate in its inaugural year when it hosted grades one through twelve (I think). Canadians learn an entirely different style of cursive writing, and use ballpoint pens. Epic fail. By the time I got to grades eight and nine, Dalhousie Junior High had been built (by a blind designer who hated windows and a crazed architect who specialized in split-level monstrosities.) In this bold new school they believed in ‘open-plan’ classrooms, ‘parallel learning streams’ and ‘student projects’. I learned that if you give me six weeks to do a lot of work, I do a little of it in the last three days. Period.  I wrote one of my earliest short stories in the hours after midnight and before breakfast. I still have it. By this time, I was reading Science fiction by the wheelbarrow load: not just the obvious and popular ones – everything I could get my hands on. I read Catch-22 because I thought it was set in an alternate universe. (Having grown up in Britain, I knew almost nothing about the Pacific Theater.) I also wrote my first science fiction then, about a naval team retrieving an alien probe from the ocean. Back to FRC for grades ten and eleven. By this time, my handwriting was so awful that I took typing lessons in evening classes so that my assignments would be legible. I had three good English Lit teachers there, two who were funny, popular and effective, and one who was serious and rather foreign, but who loved literature enough to try and teach it to unappreciative teenagers. I respected him the most. I also met my first computer.

FRC had a dedicated land-line to MUM, the Mainframe at the University of Manitoba. This connection was probably rated at several bits per minute. We used card-punch machines to write baby programs in Fortran V (Watfour.) What for indeed. Somehow, this captured my imagination, and with two of my other slide-rule toting geek friends we went far beyond the curriculum. We would sneak into the Engineering Building (Computer Science wasn’t a faculty back then) at the university and log directly onto the mainframe by plopping ourselves down at one of the IBM Selectrics adjacent to the clean room where we would search the wastepaper baskets for useable logon passwords. And then consume some poor saps processor allotment by playing Maze and Howitzer.  Now that was educational. These games, by the way, printed out one line at a time on the electric typewriter. Pong was still years away.

Grade twelve was a challenge. Dad accepted another sabbatical, at CSIRO in Sydney, Australia. The school year there is completely out of sync with Canada, and the curriculum is vastly different, too. I took Physics and Chemistry in summer school at the University of Winnipeg, packing a year of work into six grueling weeks before we went, and then took English, Math and Anthropology from Winnipeg’s School Division number one by correspondence from down under. Hated Tess of the D’Urbervilles and wrote a scathing essay about authors who torture their protagonists. I joined a surf club to make some friends and ended up, due to a misadventure involving beer and bawdy songs, joining the junior boat crew, which won medals at the national level. This was my only significant foray into organized athletics. Sydney was also where I took my first full-time job, but I’ll save that stuff for another post one day.