“If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”
Kingsley Amis

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

it's all fun and games 'til the cat gets confused
Thu 2017-12-28 23:44:55 (single post)

All right. So. Still no hot water over here, but we have accepted Blue Valley's proposal on a new water heater. Also a new furnace, because 95% efficiency and hefty rebates and also PVC venting which means finally sealing the combustion vent holes in the laundry room wall. It's dang hard to keep a house heated comfortably when one exterior wall is letting the ten-degree weather in through two holes the size of softballs. And that door between the kitchen and laundry room? It's just a regular interior door. Big crack under the door and everything. I keep a rolled-up afghan against it during the winter, sort of a makeshift draft-dodger. After Tuesday, probably, that will no longer be necessary.

Yesterday around eleven, noon or so, after Blue Valley had already visited but just before they emailed the proposal, Save Home Heat finally got back to me. We set up a visit for today during the noon-to-two window. But by today 9:30 we'd already examined Blue Valley's proposal, gone over it with the EnergySmart advisor, and accepted it. So I called Save Home Heat back and canceled. (It was really handy to have those two hours back, actually.)

So no hot water until Tuesday probably, but in the meantime, still cat-sitting for generous friends with working showers. And boy did I need that hot soak after scrimmage tonight. (We actually had scrimmage tonight! It was warm today, and overnight lows will be in the 30s--bliss!) And it wasn't the usual format. It was Team Colorado versus The World format. So those of us Boulder County Bombers who aren't on Team Colorado, we got our asses handed to us in a most educational way. No, seriously, it was amazing. I have never had so much fun dying on the opposing team's wall or getting blown up by offense. But, as you might imagine, I expected to really need some quality bath time for my sore muscles after that. I had been looking forward to that bath all day.

And I'd planned to write this very blog post while in the tub, as I sometimes do. I have a system! It involves setting the laptop on a stool or chair well out of harm's way and not touching it at all, putting a pressboard plank across the tub in lieu of a desk, and using a wireless keyboard and mouse to interact with the computer. This also might involve dinner and a beer or a glass of wine. I have my needs. I am not proud.

Except I forgot to bring the wireless keyboard over. Now that I have a laptop with a functional keyboard, I don't carry the wireless keyboard around by default. It lives in the drawer in our bathroom, precisely for use during long hot baths. But I did not bring it with me to my friends' house. I brought the wireless mouse. I brought the pressboard desk. But I did not bring the wireless keyboard, damn it.

I did bring my typewriter.

I'd brought it earlier this afternoon because I'd thought to have time to do some catch-up work on Fictionette Artifacts during that visit. Only I didn't. So I left the typewriter there thinking, OK, well, maybe after the blog post tonight. Or maybe during tomorrow's visit.

Turns out, manual typewriters are perfectly safe around water. They are not electric! And mine fit on the pressboard plank just fine, and the plank was sturdy enough to hold it. The set up was perfectly absurd, but it worked surprisingly well. The first of the two Fictionette Artifacts I still owe for October 2017 got typed up. Nothing got damagingly wet.

Meanwhile, I totally confused the cat. I count that as a win.

And now this blog post, having more to report than originally planned, is longer than it would have been, which 4thewords counts as a win. So.

starting bid 48 hours, do I hear 24, do I hear--SOLD (probably) to the contractor with the two MINUTE response time
Tue 2017-12-26 23:34:35 (single post)

OK, so, derby practice was canceled. When outdoor temperatures are 10 degrees Fahrenheit at sunset, it's too dang cold to drive the roads, let alone skate in a mostly non-climate-controlled practice building where the floor gets really slick under low temperature conditions. But I am having that hot bath anyway, and not by dint of lots of stovetop activity either, but rather by the good graces of some friends we are cat-sitting for. Turns out their vacation timing was impeccable, and they are very generous with their facilities.

In order that we not have to impose on their generosity longer than necessary, I got on the phone about the dead water heater this morning.

08:30: Called EnergySmart and pled ignorance to all things water heater. They got us enrolled in their program and then talked me through my options for replacement units (tank or tankless), asked me about our furnace (which may also need replacing or at least servicing), and queried as to other related appliances in the house (yes, we have a programmable thermostat, but we would like one that is more programmable; between roller derby and working from home, a basic Honeywell of type WEEKDAY Y/N? doesn't cover all the bases). Then they sent me a list of contractors whom they have vetted as both trustworthy and having energy efficiency priorities.

EnergySmart's services are free: Boulder County tax dollars at work! And doing a brilliant job, too. A+ would pay my taxes again.

09:15: Called Save Home Heat Co first; of the contractors on the list who handled both tankless water heaters and gas furnaces, they were the company that were physically nearest to our address. After about ten rings I got patched over to their answering service. No one was in the office, doubtless because everyone was out tending to other emergencies that had cropped up during the December 25 Federal Holiday. Their answering service was professional and efficient, not to mention brusque and rapid-fire. They evinced some impatience with me for my constantly asking them to repeat that, please, more slowly? as they rattled back the info they'd interrogated me for. They told me to expect a call back as soon as someone returned to the office.

11:00 It turns out I can't get anything done while waiting for a call-back. Just another little glitch in my brain, I guess. (As though I don't have enough.) I could not seem to bring myself to tackle even a half-hour's worth of writing. Not even my morning pages. I mean, I guess I could have, if I'd exerted more willpower, but it would have been miserable. The feeling of paralysis was strong. It was like, in some mental/psychological way, being still on the phone and on hold for almost two hours.

Which is not Save Home Heat's fault nor their lookout. My brain glitches are mine to manage. Besides, EnergySmart says they ask the contractors they vet to return calls within 48 hours. That I had waited two was hardly unreasonable.

Still, I did have to manage that brain glitch if I was going to get any work done. So I went ahead and called a second contractor, Blue Valley Heating & Cooling. And their receptionist was really patient with me before patching me directly over to a tech, who was also patient and friendly. He listened to my story with sympathy, answered my questions with care (including giving me a rough price estimate on the unit I was interested in, subject of course to the details of my installation; it was about what I expected and quite reasonable for the expected lifespan of the unit, not to mention the savings in energy efficiency). Turned out that, hey, he had a call-out in Boulder tomorrow anyway; why not arrange for a consult while he was in the neighborhood? Since my plight was an uncomfortable one and shouldn't be prolonged unnecessarily, and all.

I said yes please thank you you're the best. We agreed he'd visit tomorrow around 8:30 AM. I hung up the phone. And breathed a huge sigh of relief, feeling immensely more psychologically free to get things done.

It's recommended to call multiple contractors anyway, so one can get multiple bids and make a sound economic decision. I had not been looking forward to this. It would involve multiple contractor visits which would probably entail multiple days or weeks before we could have hot running water again. But it seems like I did, in a way, get two separate bids just this morning. Only, instead of being expressed in job price, they were expressed in terms of rapid response and friendliness.

And though I got a late start on my workday, I did get to start. And continue. And finish. Which I might not have otherwise, because...

23:32 (at the time of this writing) ...I still haven't heard a peep from Save Home Heat. I guess they're just super busy and never got back to the office at all.

Cover art incorporates public domain vector images from Pixabay and Public Domain Pictures.net
this fictionette is entering a world of longer days and shorter nights
Fri 2017-12-22 23:43:20 (single post)

As hoped for and expected, the Friday Fictionette for December 22, 2017 did not suffer for the two days I took off from writing for Yuletide preparations, observance, and clean-up. It is out and ready for your perusal, should that sound like a good time to you. It's called, "The Croquet Lawn, and What They Found There." Here's your usual bouquet of links: ebook ($1/month patrons), audiobook ($3/month patrons), and teaser excerpt (available to all). It is about portals and why you might not want to go through them. Also entomophobia, nicknames for golden retrievers, and needing to buy a new Christmas tree.

It's the Christmas edition of Friday Fictionettes. Well, sort of. I mean, there's a Christmas tree in it. Only there isn't, but that's the whole point, really. Nothing that should have been in that closet is there, and a whole lot of something that oughtn't to be is. Portal fantasy, y'all.

All the above-mentioned Yuletide preparations went to plan. All the food got cooked, sampled, and declared delicious. I now have a lot of leftover pie, which takes care of the majority of my meals for the next three days. Egg nog got drunk on rum. People got drunk on rum. People came over! Some people stayed until very late at night! It was swell.

I even managed to convince my Pandora station to behave and play me songs like "The Holly King" and "Dark Mother." (Also a bunch of random Celtic tunes, a selection of Arthuriana set to harp and guitar, and a whole lot of Loreena McKennitt. Which near misses beat the heck out of random Pete Seeger. "I hear you like folk music so I brought you some folk music." That's nice, Pandora. Good try.) But I didn't end up listening to it much once I stopped cooking, because by then I was either socializing or playing Rock Band.

I played a lot of Rock Band. Rock Band got me through those final few hours after the last guests left (around... 3:30 AM? Maybe?) and John went to sleep (ditto) and staying awake became a real struggle. On the downside, my left wrist is extra sore from curving awkwardly around the controller to get to the overdrive trigger. (Also from mildly spraining it doing dishes the next day.) On the plus side, I've gotten a lot better at sight-reading for pro keys.

Then the sun came up and I went down. I woke briefly as John was leaving for work. He gave me the news that scrimmage had been canceled due to icy roads and stupidly cold temperatures. So it turned out I had only two things to do with my Thursday: 1. Clean up after the party. 2. Continue improving my Rock Band 3 scores. I did those things. In quantity.

And then today happened and I got back to work. For the results of which, I refer you to the first two paragraphs of this blog post.

In addition to my regular Friday writing tasks, I had my very first solo Boulder Food Rescue (BFR) groceries delivery. I've just started volunteering with them. My roller derby league turned me on to them; they were on the list of community organizations which members were encouraged to go pitch in with toward the end of the year. I joined them as a last-minute volunteer sous chef for their "lunch bunch" event back at the beginning of December, and subsequently decided I'd like to work with them more. So I went to the orientation last week, shadowed one of their veteran volunteers Monday morning, and had my first solo shift this afternoon.

It went OK! I arrived at the donor grocery, loaded up the BFR bike trailer with some 150 pounds of donated produce, and rode that sucker the couple miles up to the recipient community. The delivery was a success. I did not bump the trailer into any cars, curbs, or people. The bike did not fall over in what was left of the ice and snow. No food fell off the trailer. One volunteer fell over once trying to get off the bike, having forgotten that the bike's crossbar was too high for her usual dismount maneuver, but she picked herself up again and carried on.

BFR are pretty well known around here, and their trailers are distinctive. Several people recognized the trailer while I was sorting the food, loading it up, or riding it to its destination, and they thanked me. I didn't know what to say. I thanked them back and wished them a good evening. It was awkward and sweet and it kind of made me glow.

I like the gig so far. I'm going to do it again next week.

Also, that early-wee-hour freewriting session got me my 30-day streak wings. It's my wire anniversary!
a reminder that gamification exists to serve the writer, not vice versa
Thu 2017-12-14 00:31:49 (single post)

So I've been praising 4thewords to the heavens, but I haven't mentioned, possibly because I hadn't been acutely aware of them until recently, its detrimental effects. Welllll, "detrimental effects" is putting it a little strongly. It's more that the RPG quest-and-battle style of gamification, in addition to infusing my writing tasks with extra motivation and enthusiasm, also adds complications.

For instance, I've already mentioned the challenge of choosing one's battles. I don't want to "waste" words by not being in a battle. But I don't want to end a writing task with an inconvenient amount of battle left to go. My work day turns into a sort of jigsaw puzzle, where I try to fit tasks and battles together just so. It's not a bad problem to have; generally, if I've got a bit of battle left over, I'll find there's another writing task, one I had originally planned to work on the next day, that I can instead jump on immediately. This leads to more projects making more progress more quickly.

So it's not really a problem at all, is it? It's 4thewords acting exactly as advertised. It's great.

4thewords has also improved my workday pace to no end. Instead of taking long, leisurely breaks between writing tasks, procrastinating when I ought to get back to work, and suddenly finding I've run out of day to do things in, I've begun moving more briskly from one item on my list to the next, mainly because I still have a bunch more words to go before the current monster is defeated. And I've only got 40 minutes left write them in! All right, fine, I'll take that 5-minute stretch break, I know it's good for me. But that's all! I've got to get back to beating up that Nitana! I will defeat it! It will not defeat me! I WILL TAKE ITS FEATHERS AND MAKE THEM INTO A HAT!

Besides, it's an RGP-style video game after the nature of its species. It comes with that classic temptation to keep playing just a little longer, complete just one more quest, defeat just one more monster before shutting things down. Only, in the case of 4thewords, "just one more monster" doesn't keep the player from getting back to work; it requires the player to get back to work.

So this is all wonderful. In addition to encouraging greater discipline, or at least a really convincing cargo-cult imitation of it, it's made me more often successful at getting through my task list by five or six in the afternoon. It's an amazing feeling to get to the end of a three-hour roller derby practice and remember that all my work is done. No obligations are waiting for my tired brain to tackle them. I don't have to do anything but rest, play video games, take a long bath, maybe even go to bed early. Bliss!

Except.

Except 4thewords has to complicate matters by making certain monsters only come out at night. If I am very good and do all my writing between 8 AM and 5 PM, there are monsters I will never see, whose unique battle rewards I will not get to collect. And that's tragic!

So yesterday I deliberately left myself some work to do after derby. (Mainly my blog post. Which was just as well, given the news that altered its subject matter.) And, yes, that meant I got to fight the nocturnal Mawt, the defeat of which rewards the player with Fur and Claws, which are needed to complete certain quests and craft certain objects.

And then my blog post was done and I still had like 800 words to go and it was midnight.

And that's how I got today's freewriting out of the way before 1 AM. Hooray for silver linings, I guess?

Silver lining or not, it remains that, in this particular case, 4thewords is actively working against my personal writing goals. It has put certain in-game accomplishments out of reach of my preferred writing schedule. Oh, there are workarounds, like temporarily changing my computer's time zone or clock. And I haven't ruled out experimenting with late-night sessions as my schedule (and energy level) permits. But it's still a little jarring to encounter a situation where I do have to adapt either my writing routines or my use of the gamification app to make both sets of goals coincide.

And now I have about 50 more words to write to finish off this adorable but inconveniently timed Rudakai. Blast. Guess I'll pull up the new short story and hammer away on it for a minute or two.

A little hard to see, but: firefox, scrivener, editplus, gimp, and bluestacks, and also RED KEYBOARD.
in praise of new high-powered tools and toys
Mon 2017-12-11 20:58:53 (single post)

It's here. The new computer is here. I'm using it now. And it's amazing.

I tried to overload it. I've got three windows of Firefox up, one with some 90 tabs open. I've got Chrome running. I've got LibreOffice Calc and Google Sheets ticking away. I've got four Scrivener projects open. And I've been running the Android emulator Bluestacks intermittently so I can play a few clicky game apps between tasks. Two Dots and Dots & Co. and Amazing Katamari Damacy. You know. Clicky games.

And everything's still running smoothly.

I only just discovered the Katamari app, by the way. Once I'd installed Bluestacks, the first app I installed on it was APK Pure for finding and installing the rest of my habitual apps (I prefer that over Google Play), and APK Pure was featuring Amazing Katamari Damacy prominently on its front page. I downloaded it, installed it, tried it out, and accepted it as my new addiction. It runs perfectly, no hitches or skips at all, and it's adorable.

I've only had Firefox hiccup on me a couple times, when I had it load a huge number of tabs all at once. It went into Not Responding mode for about five seconds and then came back. And it didn't take the whole computer down with it.

When I click the sound icon in the systray, the volume slider appears immediately. When I click the Start button, the Start Menu comes up right away.

Every key on the keyboard is functional.

I've had a few frustrations, no lie. There's the usual whack-a-mole game involving Windows 10 "features" that need to be turned off yesterday or, for preference, ripped out of the OS entirely. There's the Dell BIOS default of F-keys' firmware hotkey functions being primary rather than, as I'd have preferred, secondary to their assigned software keyboard shortcuts. (In other words, I'm used to pressing F2 when I want to rename a file or edit the contents of a spreadsheet cell. I'm not used to having to simultaneously hold down Fn to get that functionality. So I keep accidentally lowering my speaker volume, and it's irritating.) I'm going to have to toggle that next time I restart the computer. And, speaking of keyboard shortcuts, the latest version of Audacity has swapped the ones for "record to new track" and "append record to existing track." This is not a trivial change. I do find the new arrangement more intuitive, but the whole P, END, CTRL-S, P, SHFT-R routine is embedded in my muscle memory and it's going to take effort to dislodge it. (Also the shortcut for Stop and Set Cursor is no longer SHFT-A. Now it's just X. That messed me right up.)

But these frustrations are transitory and not originating with the computer itself.

The computer itself is amazing, if somewhat heavier than I expected. I suppose when you pack that much power into a 15" laptop (and also this many watt-hours into its battery), the poundage has to go up. (The power cord, too, is unusually hefty. Its surge protector brick could brain a squirrel.) I used to mindlessly grab the Asus by the top of its monitor in order to move it small distances; just the thought of doing that with the new Dell makes my wrist ache. This morning I woke up with a dream to write down; finding a comfortable and non-disruptive way to grab the laptop and haul it over and prop it up on my knees so I could type the dream down without having to sit up and shake that half-asleep feeling... was a little bit of a challenge.

(The keyboard lights up in the dark! It lights up red. It's very friendly on the night vision, a useful feature when trying to preserve that half-asleep feeling while recording a dream. Also it is stylish. Nothing says MAD GAMER SKILLZ like thin lines of neon red.)

I'm not really complaining. Pack it all in my bookbag, and put my bookbag on my back, and I don't really feel a difference. But let me try to carry my bookbag one-handed by its top handle, and I remember the wisdom of putting the damn thing on my back. At least I'm no longer obliged to pack an external keyboard too.

Oh! And it's got a fingerprint scanner. Because passwords are just so 2015.

It needed a name, of course. Given that this computer is about ten times the computer I probably actually need, I wanted to name it after some over-the-top kick-ass warrior queen or Goddess. So I did. Its name is BOUDICA.

I've just about got everything copied over from the Asus. Of course my writing directory came first; the least work downtime, the better. Also my Firefox profile so I could procrastinate in the manner to which I am accustomed. (What was that about the least work downtime...?) I recorded Sunday's show for AINC on the new machine. I did Sunday's freewriting on it as well as today's full writing workload. Pretty much all I've got left to do is port over my Edit Plus preferences and install the three flavors of Puzzle Pirates.

I have successfully moved MY ENTIRE LIFE onto the new machine, is what I'm saying. And it is good.

Click through for excerpt and full cover art credits.
but this fictionette would like to sleep in once in a while
Fri 2017-12-08 23:47:09 (single post)
  • 1,238 wds. long

Happy Friday! The latest Friday Fictionette is out; it's "Come Home to Roost" (teaser excerpt for everyone, ebook and audiobook links for Patrons). It's about the possible consequences of committing origami while drunk. It is also tangentially about the potential superpowers of bartenders.

Stay tuned for next week's fictionette, which will feature an alternate origin story for the tooth fairy. (Yes, I've already started drafting that sucker. Some 300 words of outline-ish note-splatter all over the page. Gotta start somewhere.)

In other Friday Fictionette news, you may recall that when I released the Fictionette Freebie for November, I tried posting it to a new venue. In addition to Patreon, Wattpad, and my blog, I published "Love of Country" to the 4thewords READ area. (If you have a 4thewords account, you can see it here.) Well, I'm astonished and please to report that the experiment was a success. It got read, it got rated, and a 4thewords denizen came over to Patreon and subscribed. That rather made my whole weekend.

I am aware, by the way, that Patreon has decided to punch every Patron in the face all of a sudden. (The only reason I'm aware is the outcry from the artists whom I follow and/or support; I didn't get any sort of notification from Patreon about it at all.) I'm not happy about it. I'm not sure immediately what to do about it. I'm considering options. Meanwhile, I do want to reassure my Patrons that I will not take offense if you need to cancel your pledges.

Today was a Friday with nowhere to be but at my desk doing the writing thing, so I let myself sleep in. It is weirdly hard to get up the morning after scrimmage, what's up with that. (That was sarcasm. I know what's up with that. I can probably name you the skaters what caused the specific bruises. It was a good scrimmage.) I figured I could afford to treat myself to a little extra rest, then just offset my usual workday schedule by a couple hours.

But no. Apparently when I start late, I continue slow. Just draaaaaaagging my feet through everything. There is no cure for that but willpower and focus, I guess.

That, or never sleep in ever again. But that would be sad.

Anyway, the new computer arrives tomorrow, according to FedEx. Not a moment too soon, is all I can say. I can almost hear the Asus grinding when I open up a tab session on Firefox. It's like the Asus knows it's about to be replaced and would like to reassure me that I didn't jump the gun or overreact--it really does need to be replaced. See? It can hardly handle having three Firefox windows and Chrome open at the same time! And then you want to open a spreadsheet in Libre Office? Without closing your web browsers down first? EVERYTHING IS HARD. Go, save yourself, forget about me--

Tomorrow evening. I'm hoping. And I'm nervous. I have this cynical suspicion that the problem is actually me. Like, I have only to use a computer for a week, be it ever so PENTIUM i7 QUAD CORE, and everything will grind to a halt again. The rot will set in. I am a corrupting influence on laptops; not even an honest-to-goodness gaming system can withstand my destructive power. It may have something to do with the way I use (or abuse) Firefox with Session Manager. It may have to do with my insistence on running Bluestacks rather than getting a smartphone. It may have to do with my aura.

Well. I just keep telling myself, even if that's true, even if I really do have the anti-Midas touch when it comes to laptop computers, the new one will at least have a keyboard that works. That alone will be worth replacing the Asus for. Although possibly not for the price I paid.

With any luck I'll have good news on that front to report on Monday.

writing tomorrow's words today (because that Einang isn't going to defeat itself)
Wed 2017-12-06 21:52:29 (single post)

So there was this neat thing that happened at the end of yesterday's writing task list, and it's another 4thewords thing, and I know, I know it's starting to sound like I'm turning this blog into one big continuous 4thewords advertisement, but I am going to take that risk and tell you about it. Because it's kind of cool.

Here's what happened.

I was working on the new story when I hit the word count total needed to win my current-at-the-time battle. And since I knew I was going to work on the story a little longer and then write my blog post, thus generating plenty more words, I started another battle. I think it was an 800-word monster, maybe 500, something like that anyway.

Because I've always got to have a battle going on, right? If I'm going to be writing, I might as well also be advancing my current quests. But it can be tricky to pick the right monster to battle. It needs to be about the right size for the writing at hand. And "the right size" can be terms of either word count or time limit.

Like, right now, since I don't know how much more writing I'm going to do after my blog post, I'm chosen a 24-hour battle. That way, if I don't write enough to defeat the monster tonight, no big deal, I'll finish it off with tomorrow's freewriting session.

Or, this morning, I picked a 300-word monster to battle when I wrote down my dream. (Yes, I count dream journaling toward my daily word count. It's narrative. It's description. It's story idea generation. It's writing.) Because of the short time limit on that particular monster, I really did need to generate all 300 words by writing down that dream. But 300 words (or rather 260--I have a pretty decent attack bonus) seemed like a reasonable estimate. As it turned out, it was an overestimate, but only at first. I eked out the rest of the words by challenging myself, with some success, to recall more dream details to write down.

But yesterday afternoon, I goofed. I still had some 250 words left on the battle when I finished the blog post. The battle timer had only two and a half hours left, and I had to leave in about half an hour for a three-hour roller derby practice. Where the heck was I going to get 250 more words in the next half hour?

From this week's fictionette, as it turned out. I'd already logged a session working on it that morning, but the alarming prospect of having to forfeit a battle (and break my flawless record of nothing but victories!) spurred me to reopen the project and work on it some more.

And that's how I wound up finishing the first draft of this week's fictionette yesterday rather than, say, in a panic on Friday morning.

And that's yet another reason why 4thewords is awesome. It pushes me to finish projects early.

and i will put the days of white-knuckled computing behind me
Tue 2017-11-28 01:05:16 (single post)

You may have occasionally heard me complain about my laptop.

You may have heard me say such things as, "I think my Asus is auditioning for the part of the typewriter in Stephen King's Misery, because every day another key on its keyboard seems to stop working." (To wit, the "s", the +/= key, the caps lock, the delete, the digits 3 and 7 on the number pad, and the digits 5, 6 and 0 on the top row, including their SHIFT and F components, nixing the end-paren and the hot keys governing volume and screen brightness too. It's an electrical thing. Sometimes they work, mostly they don't. Sometimes when they don't, if I keep hammering away at them anyway, the computer will simply die.)

You may have, perhaps, heard me lament the operating system's tendency to just can't and to forget how to even when I am tasking it cruelly by, say, attempting to run a web browser and Scrivener simultaneously. We are talking five, ten, fifteen-second pauses between my hitting ALT-ESC and the Start menu appearing, between clicking on the little volume icon and having the volume slider appear, between my typing one letter and then another letter into a Facebook messenger conversation.

You may even have heard me curse and seen me facepalm because I forgot to take the wireless keyboard's USB dongle out before telling the computer to hibernate. Because obviously if I leave the wireless keyboard's USB dongle in, the computer will crash rather than hibernate. Obviously. Who do I think I am, expecting the computer to successfully hibernate while anything is plugged into its USB ports? Why is anything ever plugged into the USB ports? Who does that, anyway?

This is the computer that Asus sent me to replace the computer that lost its ability to "see" its fully charged battery, such that if I unplugged the thing from the wall, it died. So the computer sent to replace the computer that started going electronically haywire is also now going electronically haywire. And both of them seemed to run out of memory for ridiculously banal tasks. And its/their warranty is entirely expired

This is a computer that might make you ask, "Why have you not replaced that computer?"

Well. As of tonight, I HAVE.

I did it. I bit the bullet and I spent a slightly uncomfortable amount of money on a computer that, by any measure, ought to be way more computer than I need. It's from the upper-middle range of Dell's "gaming laptop" line, an Inspiron 15 in the 7000 series with an i7 quad core, 16GB DDR4 2400Mz memory, 256GB solid state boot with 1TB storage, bluetooth, dual-band 2x2 wi-fi, and a ridiculously fantastic video card that I will probably never properly appreciate due to my pathetically low-tech video game tendencies.

Also, it's Dell. I have bad-mouthed Dell before, because every Dell I've ever owned has required me to avail myself of Dell's extended warranty repair service. However, my Asus experience has not been devoid of warranty repair interactions, and those interactions were much less friendly than their Dell counterparts. Asus didn't give me the option to extend the warranty past the first year. I had to pay for packaging and shipping. I had to practically pull teeth for them to give me status reports. Whereas, with the Dell I ordered tonight, I got the four-year extended warranty for the price of three, and longer extensions were available. When in the past I had to ship my laptop back, Dell sent me a prepaid laptop-shipping box with a comfy customizable foam interior. And once they didn't even make me ship them my computer, but instead sent a tech to my house. He sat down at my kitchen table and operated on my laptop right there.

I will bad-mouth Dell no more. I have tried both the Dell way and the Asus way of dealing with laptop misbehavior. I am resigned that laptop misbehavior is inevitable, and I prefer the Dell way of dealing with it.

The Cyber Monday discount wasn't nearly as deep as I'd hoped, but, gods damn it, I will have a computing environment that is not painful. It's supposed to arrive on December 12.

Until then, I continue chugging along with my external keyboard and other such coping mechanisms.

I am chugging along quite nicely. I got a bit behind on NaNoWriMo over the weekend, partly because no matter how much willpower I've got and how many over-the-counter remedies I use, being sick is going to slow me down; and partly because it was a weekend, darn it, and I was going to enjoy it. So now I'll need to do 4K per day to hit 50K on time. But I did make my 4K today, plus extra. And tomorrow I won't have a computer to shop for and a bunch of overdue tasks to accomplish. And I'm done being sick! It only gets easier from here.

I've only 11,649 words to go. It's not enough to finish the novel in, but it might be enough to help me figure out how to finish the novel.

forward brave dust warriors - for the words!
Wed 2017-11-15 00:31:19 (single post)

Sometimes, you have to ask yourself: Is there room for more gamification in your workday? And the answer is YES. There is always more room for gamification in my workday.

I just joined 4thewords.

Like Habitica, 4thewords is a self-improvement role-playing game. But instead of being checklist-based like Habitica, it's word-count based. It's very simple: You pick a monster and you fight it. You fight it by completing X amount of words in Y minutes. For instance, right now at this very minute I am fighting a Wignow. Wignows are fuzzy and fangy and pop-eyed and cute. They come in many varieties. You beat the plain ones by writing 250 words in 20 minutes. When you hit the target word-count, you get your reward. Then, if you are so moved, you do it again.

Actually, there's a lot more to 4thewords than that. It's a complete RPG with quests, markets, the crafting of simple objects into more complex ones, maps of different regions with their own particular challenges and monsters and quests, and limited-time events as the calendar inevitably proceeds forward through its allotment of days.

We are, as you might imagine, in the middle of one such limited-time event, that being NaNoWriMo. There's a brand new region to explore and quests that will go away when December comes, so you can imagine I'm all fired up to beat all the monsters and solve all the quests.

Which means I'm writing all the words.

I'm looking forward to writing all the words. I am looking forward to them the way I usually look forward to taking an earned break to play Two Dots or Puzzle Pirates or solve another jigsaw sudoku. 4thewords has made writing itself into the alluring and addictive time-sink I can't wait to get back to, just like it always should have been.

This is new.

I've used every bit of today's writing to battle monsters and win stuff. Well, everything but the Morning Pages. Everything else. Freewriting (629 words), this week's fictionette draft (1000 words), today's NaNoWriMo progress (1844 words), today's blog post and all the blog backlog (which I finally completed, though I still need to upload it and backdate it). I wrote about 4500 words today--or more like 5000 if you consider this bit since crossing midnight "today."

And I want to write more because there are so many quests to complete!

I'm completely astounded by how effective this game is at getting me to do what I'm already supposed to want to do but have spent so many cumulative hours of my life avoiding. I never thought I could be this motivated by basically an online word-counting application.

If all this burble and glee has got you intrigued, then you should probably visit 4thewords and sign up. Caveat: It is not free. It is, at its most expensive, $4/month. You pay for subscriptions with in-game items called "core crystals," and you can buy crystals in bulk at a discount, lowering the monthly price to something like $2 and change. But the first month is free, and you get full functionality during that month so you can better evaluate whether it's worth your while.

Spoiler: I am totally going to subscribe.

Anyway, if you do sign up, feel free to use my referral code: XABFN67843 to get 20 core crystals free right from the get-go when you make your first actual payment (and, full disclosure, to earn me 44 of 'em at that time, too, but no pressure). And you can send me a friend request! I'm "vortexae" just like on Habitica (and on far too many BBS systems going back to the mid-90s).

I guess I'm done for the night. Until tomorrow, when I plan to defeat a large number of monsters in Luciola Forest and at Uurwall's Marionette Carnival!

a brief interlude for stationery sourcing
Wed 2017-10-04 00:25:49 (single post)

Hey, Boulder County - where the heck do you buy postcards?

Yes, well, "online," I just figured that out, but I need more postcards today. Meaning Wednesday the 4th, because I see it has snuck around to past midnight while my back was turned. Today, I need to send at least one more postcard urging Democrats in Utah to vote for #DrKathie because that's how it works, you pledge to send at least one postcard per day, and I take these things seriously.

Don't look at me like that. I know I've mentioned Postcards to Voters before. To review: You sign up, they send you addresses, you send postcards to those addresses. There are ground rules, of course. Postcard designs must be inclusive. Postcard messages must be legible, handwritten, and stick to the talking points for the associated campaign. Postcards are addressed to "Awesome Voter" or similar; they are signed with first name or initials. Ground rules like that. But it's still utter simplicity and great for folks who love sending old-fashioned physical mail but who maybe get the cold shivers and the hot red hives at the thought of making cold calls.

My postcards to date have been sourced from one of two places:

  • A pad of watercolor-friendly postcard blanks I picked up at an arts'n'crafts store while I was still in high school at the latest; and
  • A handful of European luggage-tag style postcard blanks I picked up at a stationery store at the east end of Loveland last month.

Those sources have run dry. I can't go back in time, and I'm not going all the way to Loveland every time I need more blanks. Besides, I damn near cleaned the store out of this particular product. And they don't interact with fountain pen ink reliably well, anyway.

I'm guessing maybe Michael's, maybe Office Depot or Staples? Those kind of places?

If anyone local's got suggestions, I'm all ears. Bonus points if it's somewhere in downtown Longmont within skating distance of the library.

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