The Schedule

I’m so sorry for the lack of posts last week. It’s been a hectic time with work picking up and three trips in the last week. I added a new state to my list (Texas) though I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Dallas traffic or the DFW airport. This trip has taught me I need a damn GPS. And before you ask, no, I can’t use my smart-phone because I don’t have one (got asked this at least five times when I said I got lost). Thanks again to the little-red haired girl for her help.

I did see one of the best weddings ever (<5 min). It actually included a reference to The Princess Bride (Mawidge), and to Spaceballs. That’s right, they literally did “the short version”.

Do You?
Yes.
Do You?
Yes.
Fine you're married.

There were also burritos at the reception. Good times.

There will be a new chapter of The Sky Below Thursday April 30th. I’m working diligently on Chapter 7 and hope this will be something you’ll enjoy. The day before we’ll have a little summary of each character’s stories so-far since it’ll have been about a month since Chapter 6. This probably means The Sky Below will bleed into January 2016, but so be it.

What I did manage to do a lot of these last couple of weeks was reading. So as a special “treat”, I’m going to be posting my reviews of everything in my queue of “read not reviewed”. This is probably about 15 books so we’ll see how many we actually get to.

Ben Trube, Writer’s normal schedule will hopefully resume next week. If you guys have any tech questions for Trube on Tech Tuesdays, please contact me using the form or in the comments below.

And if you’re a fan of Buffy, take the time to read Brian’s fan-fic The Witch and the Dragon. Superb.

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USB-C – Sex will never be the same again

It’s an old joke to those of you who are fans of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, but the way USB cables used to work was this:

  1. Try to plug USB cable in
  2. Doesn’t work so flip over
  3. Try to plug it in
  4. Doesn’t work so flip over
  5. Plugs in

For those of you who chose geekier ways of giving the sex talk (if you’re gonna call the connector ends male and female this is bound to happen somewhere), using a USB cable analogy for men and women might lead to some confusion later in life.

But there’s a new USB standard that’s been floating around for a few months, and Mac’s latest laptop is the first to implement it, USB-C.

With USB-C the steps are:

  1. Plug it in

In typical Apple fashion this is the only port on their laptop and will only be compatible with older devices if you use an adapter (try having that talk with your kids).

typeCexample

Image Source: Apple Insider

Probably this will start cropping up as an option on other laptops later this year, but should you worry now about all the old USB drives you have lying around? (Hint: NO).

USB Type-A (the kind you’re probably most familiar with if you’ve ever used a flash drive) has been around for nearly two decades (my first computer that had it was purchased in 2003). This means the vast majority of computers you will ever encounter in the world will still use Type-A for a long time to come, and it will probably take years for Type-C to take over the marketplace to the point where you could reliably use those drives elsewhere. The new MacBook lists for a base price of $1200 so only your hipster friends with money will use these anyway.

You’re better off buying a good USB 3.0/3.1 drive which does have considerably better write speeds than 2.0 (though not the order of magnitude change in practical use that most people claim). 3.0 flash drives are better at running programs than a 2.0 flash drive (closer to what you’d get with a portable hard drive though still slower). And they’re only a couple of bucks more at places like MicroCenter (good USB 3.0 32GB for about $12).

And though I know there are some under the hood changes allowing for some potentially faster protocols in Type-C, for right now you’re really only saving the five seconds you’ve been spending trying to plug in a device the wrong way.

And foreplay’s the best part anyway :)

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The Trailing Edge of Technology

We live in age of fairly continuous advancement in technology. Admittedly a lot of that progress is incremental, processors get a little denser, hard drives get a little bigger, and internet speeds stay roughly the same. But in my roughly 30 years on this earth I’ve seen the transition away from big floppies, to small floppies, to tapes, to CD’s, to DVD’s, to flash drives, to portable hard drives to solid state drives to the cloud.

But the thing is, as advanced as we are, there are a lot of us who still use older technologies in our everyday lives.

I used floppy disks regularly (the 3.5″ variety) until about 2003. I didn’t have a CD burner on my computer until later that year and that was also roughly the same time I saw someone with a flash drive. The year before I even distributed a software project for a country simulation on floppy disk. I used to cary around a little white box that had about 60 disks containing all my programs, games, books, music and files. The disks were even color coded to indicate what was on them. I still had a floppy drive on a computer until last year when I finally sold my old desktop (though I’m still searching for a reliable USB powered one so I can get old games).

Adopting new technology is expensive. My first flash drive was twice the size of the white box in terms of storage capacity, and cost $40 (for 128MB). My first external hard drive was $300 for 320GB (I don’t buy computers now for much more than that price). My first computer was $1300 and my first laptop was $800. My first tablet was $200 (which may have been a little cheap compared to the iPad, but still). CD’s used to cost 15 dollars and DVD movies the same or maybe even five bucks more.

And we don’t throw out technology immediately after we buy it. We try to figure out what’s a good technology to invest in and stick with so we can build our collections. CD’s and DVD’s get a bad rap in this regard. Even though a lot of things have moved to digital or pure streaming services, computers are still very compatible with the optical disk format. It’ll probably be another 5-10 years before getting an optical drive on a standard size laptop will be an add-on not a default. And if we drive cars, those are usually at least five years behind in terms of media adoption. The CD was created in 1982 but my Dad’s 96′ Taurus still had a tape deck. In fact most of my generation’s first high-school cars had a tape deck and had to use that weird tape to CD converter thingy (God knows how it worked) to plug-in a portable CD player.

Even those of us making a decent middle class wage can’t afford to adopt everything, and definitely not in its first year. Sometimes this works to our benefit as it allows us to avoid dead technologies like HD DVD and before that Laser Disk (and probably soon the new Apple watch).

But one of the best illustrations of the trailing edge is the library.

I worked in my local library in 2002-2003, around the time DVD’s were first starting to take over for VHS in the collection. Now at the time DVD’s had been around for about five years (the first one I ever owned might have been in 2000 and it was a gift). A lot of people still had VHS players and extensive VHS collections and didn’t have the money to switch over. The library wants to serve the greatest swath of the public and so it will often keep technolgies long after they are “dead” in the public conciousness, because the reality is many people still use that tech. Today that trailing edge for VHS is thrift stores. The one in Delaware has a whole long wall of VHS tapes to be had for a quarter. For those of us who didn’t want to pay 20-30 bucks for the original versions of the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD, finding them for a quarter is pretty good.

The same can be said of the libraries’ books. Sure a lot of us have tablets, eReaders and smart phones that can all read eBooks. And libraries, including my local branch, are beginning to focus as much on digital lending as phyiscal. But not everyone has the ability to read eBooks. I gained mine maybe in late 2011. eBook sales while rising most years are still a small part of the book market. Books are literally a dead-(tree) technology, but I have a feeling they may have one of the longest trailing edges of anything we’ve ever created.

What old tech have you used recently? Remember having to rewind tapes with a pencil?

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Hodge-Podge

As I write this I’m sitting in the living room with my dog lying against my feet. He doesn’t like thunder very much and sometimes needs a little reassurance that everything is okay. It’s sweet the way he trusts me, and feels better just knowing I’m here, and I feel a little bad that I have to go in an hour. But maybe the storm will die down.

Sometimes there are things I want to write about that aren’t a whole blog post, or if they were it would come across more as a rant. Here’s a smattering:

– I just purchased the recent Dynamite Comics Bundle from Story Bundle and included amongst the titles is Red Sonja: Unchained. For those unfamiliar Red Sonja is a sexy red-headed barbarian fighting in a fantasy world of dangerous monsters and sporting a chain-mail bikini (I reviewed Legends of Red Sonja a while ago which is also included in the bundle). The literal premise of Unchained is that her bikini is damaged by fighting a mystical wolf beast and she has to spend the rest of the story wearing something else, in this case the pelt of the wolf she just killed. Something about that just seems hilarious to me. Don’t judge.

– A little shout-out to my friends down under who may be getting a letter from the studio that produced Dallas Buyers Club. Seems Australian ISPs are going to have to give up the identity of about 5000 of you. The IP addresses were gathered by a data logger working for the studio who joined the torrent sharing of the movie. Piracy is bad and all, but I think it’s ridiculous how much lag time there can be with the release of certain products in different countries (in Australia’s case often many months). I’m always a little annoyed to learn when an American film premieres overseas before it premieres here (and some even get different endings or scenes (i.e. Iron Man 3)). What bothers me simply about this is that there are no clear technological reasons why films can’t just be released at the same time. A lot of theaters in my area now have digital screens where the movie played is essentially a high quality digital file. I know there are some complex economics involved, but that feels mostly like an excuse. People will buy your product if it is reasonably priced, and available in a timely fashion. Otherwise, they’ll find a way to get it anyway.

– I’ve been having a lot of fun transferring some old cassette tapes to digital, a project kicked off by finding a bunch of Brother Cadfael audio books on the cheap from the thrift store. Something about the weight, rattle and whirr of old tapes kicks up some old memories and sent me digging through my closets for more material to transfer. There are a number of Star Trek audio dramas that never made the transition to CD’s which is kind of a shame. The only drawback is that I have to play the whole tape to record it, in real time, but luckily I have a cassette player that fits in my bookbag which I can wire into my laptop and have the old tech sitting next to me while I write code. Best thing I found so far: John  Cleese reading C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Classic and sadly out of print.

– Real training exercise I’ve been assigned at work: A peacock in the land of penguins. Turns out this is a classic business book now in its third edition, following the adventures of Perry the Peacock amidst a sea of birds in tuxes. It’s only a 0.01 on Amazon (with $3.99 shipping) if you want a laugh or to take the course with me. Isn’t corporate life grand?

– In case of any of you have picked up the fractal book but have questions about it, remember you can always contact me at bentrubewriter@gmail.com. I had a great e-mail back and forth recently with someone who picked up the book and needed a little code assistance. Always happy to help someone learn about fractals. Or anything else for that matter.

– I’m thrilled that the next Lego Game will be Jurassic: World, covering the original trilogy and the newest installment. We watched all three movies over the weekend (1st one is still the best by a long shot). But I’ve got to wonder how they’ll adapt this into a kid friendly game. I’ve been playing Telltale’s episodic Jurassic Park recently and you spend a lot of time getting eaten by dinosaurs for making mistakes. One scene in particular involved my character getting crushed between a Triceratops and a T-Rex with a 30 second sequence of my daughter grieving before it told me I died and let me reload. I’m dead already, you don’t have to make me feel bad about it.

That’s all for now. Have a good morning!

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Walking Inside Your Story

One of the mental problems I’ve been working on this week is what would a stairwell look like if it was flipped upside-down and would you still be able to use it to get between floors. The answer of course varies a bit by design but generally it should work for narrative purposes, though there are some obvious difficulties.

Earlier, in Chapter Two of The Sky Below I had to think about what it would be like to walk through a ceiling with tiles. In my office there’s a decent four or five feet above what I consider the ceiling, and if the room were flipped I’d be running into a lot of the frame or crawling below it.

Several scenes in Surreality take place in real life locations. Part of figuring out how to write the scene involved walking through those spaces, examining viewing angles, timing runs, that sort of thing. While a lot of the spaces in our stories are places we invent wholesale, it can be a refreshing exercise to write something with real world restrictions.

The benefit is that you can actually do some of the things your character will be doing. If several officers are tasked with staging at different levels in a large open area, you can get a sense of what they can see, what objects are in their way, and how quickly they can respond to threats. You can see opportunities for cover, and possible escape routes for your perpetrator. And if you do it right, people who read your work and know the real place will feel like they are really there.

With my upside-down earth a lot of this is visualization, but it starts from the same real world place. Some of the locations in my story I’ve been able to get interior layouts and have actually flipped them to get a sense of how surfaces change. I’d love to make a field trip to Cleveland at some point, but fortunately there are some well documented pictures from a variety of blogs that have been very helpful.

Research can help to inspire new ideas and creative energy that might have been spent creating complex layouts can now be spent on creative solutions to the problems posed by a well-known location. You might occasionally get a few weird looks, and you might not be able to get everywhere you’d like to go, but anything that can add to realism can only benefit story. Specific details drive the readers ability to visualize where they are and what is happening.

Of course if I was really good I would just stand on my head and write. Only trouble is I’d have to convince everyone else to stand on their head as well.

Hmmmm.

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The Problem

John Oliver had a pretty big get on Last Week Tonight on Sunday, Edward Snowden, NSA leaker and revealer of the ways in which our government is spying on our data. The problem is, we don’t know who this man is, or why we should really give a hoot. Oliver interviews a number of people on the street who, if they have heard the name Snowden at all, incorrectly identify him as Julian Asange from WikiLeaks.

Oliver tried to tease out reasons why the American public should care from a very technically minded person. Ultimately Oliver chose to frame it as “can the government see my dick pics?” Sure, it’s crude and an oversimplification of the privacy rights of citizens, but it’s something that at least some of us will care about. And the analogy worked as Oliver quizzed Snowden on the ways in which certain government programs can see our unmentionables if we’re foolish enough to ever have them touch the Internet ever.

I think there are a couple of problems when we try to have a complicated discussion as a society. We’re not all very technically minded, and the technically minded among us aren’t very good at teasing out what should be common knowledge, and what is just easy to them because they’ve spent years working with the stuff. And societally, we’re not good at assessing long term risk. We eat too much even though it negatively affects our health in the long run. We don’t save enough for retirement because it’s so far away, you get the idea.

I have this problem all the time when trying to explain something technical to someone else, even when I think it’s pretty simple. Part of this is I’m not actually that inclined to be a teacher. I like writing about technical problems, but sit me next to someone on a computer trying to work something out and I go a little crazy. I’m tempted to snatch the keyboard and mouse away and just do it rather than try to explain in non-technical terms.

Other times it’s simply a matter of thinking something is easier than it is, or thinking we’ve explained ourselves when we really haven’t. And the American people have a shorter attention span than we’d care to admit. We need  a simple analogy. And that’s not all that unreasonable of a demand. There are a lot of things we should technically care about, international crisis in Iran, Yemen, Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram (if I spelled it incorrectly, then good ). We’re supposed to worry about climate change, our health, health care, the rapid pace of technology and how our technology is made. The list goes on and on.

So, yeah, maybe not all of us have dick pics, but what do we have that we’d rather the government not see? If we’ve put that thing on a computer, the government has probably seen it.

Discuss.

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Structured vs. Unstructured

It’s been about three months since I instituted the new format here at Ben Trube, Writer and generally speaking I think it’s going pretty well. Having theme days on Tuesday (Technology), Wednesday (Writing), Friday (Book Reviews) and every other Thursday (The Sky Below), means I really only have to generate topics for 1-2 posts a week. If I work on The Sky Below during the week, it tends to give me something to think about writing which helps the Wednesday post. My job and my interests mean that the tech posts usually write themselves, and all the reading in my leisure time makes selecting books for review more a matter of constructing the week’s theme than trying to cram to finish something.

Part of the reason for the theme was to give people some predictable features they could come back to each week, trying to serve all of the various audiences that come to this blog. I’ve seen a noticeable bump in traffic when I keep the structure going, and just as noticeable a dip if I take a day or two off. But the primary reason for the change was to help me know what to write about.

There’s only one small problem with this scheme, Mondays.

For some silly reason I thought it would be a good idea to start my writing week with a post that could be about anything. It’s pretty easy to keep writing on something you’ve started, or that you have a pretty good idea of how to write, but the blank page is the bane and frustration of every writer, and I decided that’s how I should start my week.

That means that often I’m coming up with the idea for this post as I’m driving in early to work, tossing ideas around in the gelatin of my head which is reeling from being up two hours earlier than it has been the last few days (maybe four hours earlier). Sometimes, if I’ve had an eventful weekend of writing, I can write about that, figuring that by Wednesday I’ll have a new topic. Occasionally I can write my musings on a current issue (though the truth is that I generally don’t like to comment on the widely discussed current events of the day, and would rather write about something a little more obscure or less discussed).

But on mornings like this one, I almost have nothing. This is the second time I have tried to write this post. The first was on Saturday sitting in NTB waiting for an oil change which involved the literal staring at a blank screen for 20 minutes before finally giving up and reading comic books.

Here’s the theoretical benefit of unstructured days like this one. If all I ever do is write about the same things week to week than I may be very productive, but my brain will be a little less creative. Sure it is very possible to be creative within a set of rules, and generally speaking it’s actually a lot easier. But sometimes you’ve got to push your brain to do something it doesn’t normally do in the hope that there might be something to discover.

In practice what I seem to produce are rants or ramblings like this one, but I’m still new at this. Like a lot of things with writing, and new ideas in general, you need longer than you think to evaluate if they’re going well. Maybe in a year I’ll decide that Mondays should be Manga Mondays or Meta-Mondays but in the meantime I guess I’ll stick with trying to shake the cobwebs loose.

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