On Laptops

So I bought a netbook. I’ve been wanting something small that I could use with a real keyboard, and being home sick and unable to sit at a desk finally made me look into my options. I wanted something like a Macbook Air or maybe one of the Windows ultrabooks, but the $1000+ price tag was more than I wanted to spend. I did some poking around on Newegg and found a netbook that looked perfect.

I ended up with an Acer Aspire One 725. It has an AMD C60 dual core processor, a 320 gb hard drive (not solid state), 2gb of RAM, and a Radon 6290 video card. It also had Windows 7 Home Premium. Oh, and an 11 inch screen. When you consider that most of the other machines in the $300 price range had single core processors, 1gb of RAM, integrated video, a 10 inch screen and they were trying to run Windows 7 Starter Edition, this one seemed like the best value BY FAR. From the reviews I read, Windows 7 runs terribly with 1g of RAM, so one of the big selling points to me was that this had 2gb AND it had Home Premium.

So those are the specs, but how does it work? Really well. I’ve been using it non-stop since Friday afternoon when it arrived. The 11 screen gives the case a little extra width, so I have a nearly full size keyboard. The hardware specs have left me with no complaints. I’ve been doing a lot of typing and a lot of (too much) web browsing, and everything has been snappy. I haven’t seen any of the slowness that was a major complaint for other netbooks. Granted, it doesn’t take much to run Word and Chrome, but I’m not getting any lag when switching programs or poking around in Windows Explorer.

Even the battery life is good. I’m getting about 6 hours on a charge. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to write for 6 hours straight, but if I did, it’s not really a hassle to plugin somewhere and keep going. If I wanted to go outside and brave the 100 degree heat, I even have outlets on my deck. The only time I could see the battery life being an issue is if I’m traveling and the airport has no outlets. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. (To be honest, I’ll just run the battery down and then break out the Kindle.)

How does it handle games? I have no idea. I am conscientiously avoiding installing any on it. I really do intend for this to be my writing machine and I’m trying to avoid distractions. I hear that siren call of Football Manager, but I have my body lashed to the mast.

I have two complaints so far. I use the Home and End keys frequently when I’m in Word. On this keyboard, Home and End are only accessible by pressing Function and then Page Up or Page Down. To make matters worse, Page Up and Page Down aren’t on the top right where they belong—they’re on the bottom right tucked in with the arrow keys. I’m working around it, but it’s irritating. The second issue is the touchpad. I find myself typing along and suddenly I’m typing in the middle of a word somewhere two paragraphs above where my cursor should be. I think the problem is that my thumbs are brushing against the touchpad occasionally when I hit the spacebar. The touchpad works fine, but I really wish I had some easily accessible button that I could use to disable it when I’m typing. The worst case is that I end up plugging in another keyboard, but I’m going to try to adapt for a week or two before I take that step.

Overall, I really like it. It’s perfect for my needs and the price was excellent. I’ve already told Carissa that I’m planning to give it to Sophia in a year or two and buy myself an ultrabook of some sort, but in the meantime, this little Acer will do nicely.

Blackbirds

I finished Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds last night. It was very enjoyable. It’s the kind of book that grabs you by the throat, squeezes off the air and drags you along to the end where it finally lets go and leaves you there, gasping for breath on the pavement, wondering what just happened. The protagonist, Miriam Black, made me think of Marla from Fight Club, or least Helena Bonham Carter’s version of Marla. She’s a self-destructive lunatic, but she also has a strange psychic ability that lets her see how people will die. Wrap that up with a mouth that would make a sailor blush and an imagination that would would make Tim Burton squirm, and you have a fascinating character to follow around for 75,000 words or so.

A Quick Story

I’ve been great about updating this blog. I’m still writing. I’m midway through another novel. It’s a stand alone book rather than a sequel to Antigen. The idea right now is that I’ll finish this one and follow up with a pair of sequels to complete a trilogy.

In the mean time, here’s a quick story I wrote a few months ago.

 

The Sentinel and the Beast

The nearly silent creak of hinges woke me enough to half open one eye and check the room. Nothing seemed amiss, other than a closet door that was two inches open. The boy had closed it before he went to bed. I opened my other eye and watched, but my body remained still. Still and ready.

The door creaked open a few more inches and I saw the first sign of the beast. A green claw had hold of the bottom of the door and a glowing yellow eye peered out. A low growl rose in my throat, but still I waited. The door opened further and the beast emerged from the dark of the closet.

Snarling, I pounced.

The beast’s powerful claws wrapped around me, its odor clogged my nose, its bitter ichor stuck to my muzzle as I tore at it with my teeth. The beast roared and twisted. I growled and shook.

Round and round we went. I forced it back to the closet. It pushed me back to the boy’s dresser. A shake of my head threw us against the boy’s bed; a swipe of its tail tossed me against the door.

The boy awoke crying in the middle of the battle.

“Mommy!” the boy called to his mother. As if she could defend him.

I snapped out a pair of quick barks to ensure the woman would hear his cries, but also to summon his father. I thought I could handle the beast, but discretion has always been the greater part of valor.

The barks unsettled the beast and it retreated toward the closet. I closed in again and harried it further. Get thee gone, foul creature! The beast finally slithered back into the darkness of the closet and pulled the door closed behind it. I stood mere inches away and focused my concentration on it. A couple more short barks let it know I was still there and it stood no chance should it venture forth again.

The door to the boy’s room opened and the light flicked on.

“What’s going on in here?” the boy’s father demanded.

“Oh my,” his mother said a moment later.

I looked back over my shoulder and saw them standing in the doorway, looks of shock on their faces. Coming so close to the enemy can do that.

“My dinosaur,” said the boy. He sounded afraid. He should. White tufts of the beast were scattered about the room and stuck to my fur. He’s lucky I was here.

The woman sniffed. “Is that my eucalyptus lotion?” The beast’s ichor coated the room.

“Bad dog,” the father said. He dragged me by the collar from the room to the front door. “You can sleep on the porch tonight, Elmore.” He opened the front door and nudged me outside with his foot.

My body may be cold tonight, but my heart will be warm with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Throne of the Crescent Moon: Reviewed

Somewhere in the last few months I read a blog post by an experienced author where he said that a book should be judged by whether it does what the author intended. All books should entertain or inform and should avoid boring the reader, so that goes as a given. But beyond that a book shouldn’t be judged by comparing it to the reader’s expectations, rather by whether the writer’s intent was realized. It is with this in mind that I’m reviewing Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

But first, qualifications. I have none. I write software for a living. I love to read and I especially love to read fantasy and science fiction. I write some, too, for what it’s worth. I’m just a reader that also has a humble pulpit.

What I Liked
The Setting. The author had a blurb on John Scalzi’s blog where he talked about wanting to put the Middle Eastern setting at the center of his story. He did. And it was great. At times I thought I could smell Dhamsawaat. He painted a picture with enough little details that I was able to fill in the larger swaths in my imagination.

The heroes. Adoulla, Litaz and Dawoud were all interesting and had enough backstory to make me care about what happened to them. Does Adoulla give up the kaftan and live happily ever after? I hope so. Do Litaz and Dawoud go on to a quiet life in the Soo Republic? They should; they deserve it.

The villains. Mouw Awa the manjackal is a wonderful villain. Honestly, he’s one of my favorite villains in recent memory. He’s a horrible, horrible creature that’s untouchable by sword or magic. And on top of that he toys with his victims like some kind of man sized demonic cat.

The Falcon Prince is hard to pin down as his role changes with the story. He isn’t as well developed as I’d like, but he’s some kind of mashup of Robin Hood and Aladdin and Superman. I hope he features prominently in the sequel.

The hook. The interludes with the captured guardsman were brutal and terrifying and they took me by the cheek and dragged me wriggling through the story. The prelude in particular was great. It gave me setting and raised questions and just worked.

The prose. It was good. The author has a clear, highly readable voice, may it please All-Merciful God.

What I Didn’t Like
My momma taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Writing a novel of my own and getting very little feedback taught me that you can’t improve what you don’t know is broken.

The story was boring for the middle 70%. The hook was solid, the fight scene where Zamia was introduced was excellent and first encounter with Mouw Awa left me wanting more, but the book never returned to that peak. The try/fail cycles just didn’t feel like they had tension. Raseed had a little tangle with the Falcon Prince and Litaz had a little tangle with the city watch, but neither really upped the stakes any.

The love story was boring. I don’t think it could have been cut since we needed to see Raseed’s inner conflict to get an idea of who he was, but… no, it could have been cut. Raseed’s inner conflict was boring. I never really cared about Raseed or Zamia. If there’s going to a prominent inner conflict, I need to really give a damn about the character.

The Falcon Prince seemed all powerful. Characters are compelling because of things they CAN’T do, not just because of what they can. He seemed to be a paragon of Robin Hood virtue with no weakness. I know I said I liked him, and I did like him, but it he just seemed like he could have been even more compelling.

The ending. The throne rising up out of the ground with no forewarning? It felt contrived and out of the blue. Overall, the climax didn’t feel like it reached the same level as the opening battles. It seemed too easy. The premise of the resolution was fine, just the execution left me wanting.

Conclusion
I liked the book. You, dear reader, should read it. The things it does well far outweigh the things I thought it got wrong. I will absolutely buy and read future works from the author.

Throne of the Crescent Moon

I Bought A Hardback Today

I did. A real honest to God dead tree book. The first dead tree book I’ve bought in months due to reading on my phone and then on my Kindle. I don’t think I’ve gone this long between physical book purchases since I finished my undergrad.

The book was Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

A New Story

I wrote another short story and put it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. It’s called The Kite and the Cage. It’s the story of a boy that goes outside on a windy and day with a kite and gets carried high into the sky. He lands in a clearing outside of town and discovers a cage full of neglected puppies. The boy has to decide whether to run for home or to try to help the pups. Things get complicated when the puppies’ evil owners find out what’s happening and the boy has to flee for his life.

http://www.amazon.com/Kite-Cage-Animal-Adventures-ebook/dp/B006YGSE8Y

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-kite-and-the-cage-db-baldwin/1108296269

 

Blue letters and a colorful box cite

Self Publishing: Mechanics

I ran across some excellent documentation for self-publishers today. David Gaughran has a write-up of his own experiences formatting and selling his self published work earlier in 2011.

He has an ebook for sale that describes the publishing industry and explains why one might choose to self publish. It’s available for sale on Amazon, B&N and the other usual places, but he also offers a free copy on his website in pdf. It’s worth checking out in general, though for the most part it contains information I’ve read on other blogs in the last six months. That’s not a knock on him by any means. There’s a lot of information on the internet about self publishing and he’s done a fine job collecting a bunch of it into one nicely formatted place.

The really interesting thing I found in his book was the pointer to check out Guido Henkel’s articles on eBook formatting. Mr. Henkel walks through the steps needed to go from Word (or the word processor of your choice) to a cleanly formatted HTML document that’s ready to be converted to any other eReader format.

It’s amazing. I write code for a living, so I skimmed the introductory bits and jumped straight to the technical bits, but he does a solid job explaining WHY as well as HOW. If you’re trying to figure out how to get from your Word document to something you’d feel good about uploading to the world at large, this is an excellent read.

The answer is clean HTML. You use the word processor to do some formatting to make your document HTML friendly then you use a proper text editor (I use notepad++ on a daily basis for work) and regular expressions to automate the process. Calibre closes the loop and gets you from HTML to EPUB and MOBI with a cover and table of contents. Henkel says it takes him about 15 minutes to format a full novel now. I imagine it will take me an hour or two to convert Antigen this weekend since I haven’t followed the steps before, but much less to convert the short story I wrote last night once I have a little experience.

It’s Out!

I’ve tried this blog thing once or twice before, but I actually have something worthwhile to post about now: Antigen. I have self-published my first novel. It is currently available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The blurb:

Alex’s life as a graduate student is transformed when a laboratory fire destroys three years of research in a single morning. As he works to pick up the pieces he must overcome hostility from his department head and come to terms with his feelings for his lab partner. Then love and science combine to put him in a position to perform research in a way he never imagined possible. What he discovers will change his life, and the lives of those around him, forever.

Buy now at Amazon or Buy now at Barnes & Noble.

If you read the book and you like, please leave  review at Amazon. I suppose you can even leave a review if you don’t like it. If you feel really compelled to offer a wall o’ text of criticism, by all means do it here in the comments. I’m very curious to hear what people think about the book.