Desk Deliberations

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Computers have not only changed how we write, they’ve changed where we write. No, this photo wasn’t taken recently, but it shows one of the places my laptop and I can go to write on warm summery days. (That’s assuming we’re eventually going to get summer this year.)

I know I’m more efficient when I work at my desk, but a change of locale is refreshing. It occurs to me that there are a surprising number of desk options in the house besides the one in my office. That one is exclusively my own… the office and desk leftover from my days of running a business from home.

My husband has a desk of his own, too. After forty years in ministry with an office in the church du jour, he needed a spot at home after he retired, and a corner of the guest room became his sanctuary.

My bedside table in our master bedroom is another desk, one that belonged to my husband’s parents. Its finish is crackled and marred but that only adds to its value as a family heirloom. The accompanying chair with its petit point cushion somehow disappeared into a stepmother’s household, but the desk has followed us through seven moves. I keep a pen and notepad in it for nighttime eurekas but without a chair I’ve never used it as an official writing place.

There’s a built-in desk in the kitchen/family room, too, but I don’t think of it as a real desk since it’s an extension of the matching kitchen cabinets and countertop.  When it hasn’t been cleared for the sake of a photo, it collects spillover debris from the other counters… right now, in addition to the phone, it holds a box of tissues, a jar of 20-20-20 fertilizer (my houseplants need help), a notice from the vet that our dog is due for his booster shots, and a pottery jar of peppermints.

Upstairs, in what use to be our youngest daughter’s room before she married, there is a tabletop desk in front of the window. It was chosen to provide lots of writing space for my writing buddy when she comes to visit. Often as not, though, she comes downstairs to work at the kitchen table where more of our ‘Wildwood Acres’ is visible. (She doesn’t come often enough now, but at one time there were week-long visits when we spent hours discussing our writing projects.)

Five desks in one home! I know I’m blessed with all these options. I could take my laptop computer and work on any one of them, and yet most often you’ll still find me in a recliner in the family room with my feet up and the laptop perched on my knees. There’s something to be said for being surrounded by the comfortable informality of the working household, even when that includes the distractions of the refrigerator, the television and my husband’s comings and goings.

Please excuse me now… I’ve made a cup of chai tea and it’s time I got back to writing.

How about you? Do you have a desk? What are your favourite writing spots? Do you cope well with distractions or do you need privacy to write productively?

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You only thought typewriters were obsolete!

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Typewriters are making a comeback. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but according to an article in the New York Times, it’s true. Among the comments on my last post was one by journalist Caitlin Kelly that took me to her Broadside blog. There she discussed the NYT article and reminisced about her early typewriting experiences. She said, “As someone old enough to have begun her journalism career working on a typewriter, I remember well the joys and frustrations – fingers covered in Wite-out! No delete key! Physical cutting and pasting! – that went along with it.”

Her words sent my memory cells careening!

Dusty and almost forgotten, abandoned in the darkness of my office closet, a plastic case hides the forerunner to a succession of many Mac computers – an electric Smith Corona SL470. My husband has often suggested it’s taking up unnecessary space and should be scrapped, or at least donated to a church garage sale, but I can’t quite convince myself to part with it.

It’s not antique by any means, and isn’t even my first typewriter. My first was a sleek Olivetti portable, given to me one Christmas by my parents.  My dad asked me to help choose it, ostensibly as a gift for my mom, who typed up his business invoices on an ancient Underwood. What a surprise to discover the Olivetti under the tree Christmas morning with my name attached to it!

Mom, on the other hand, continued to plunk on the Underwood until receiving a hand-me-down Royal years later from my in-laws.  It was a great improvement. The Royal’s keys were wonderfully smooth, and no longer etched circles into my mom’s fingertips.

Generations of writers have recorded their stories using typewriters, and some would say creativity flowed much easier than with today’s computers. The ideas poured out, keeping pace with sixty-words-per-minute keystrokes. I’m not sure sitting at a typewriter, hands poised over the keys while staring at a blank sheet of paper, is really much different than sitting at my computers staring at the blinking cursor on a blank screen.

The memories don’t provoke many creative ideas, but perhaps the convenience of a delete key and a save option compensate for the lack of any tactile inspiration.

I know I don’t miss the Wite-out, or erasing multiple copies sandwiched between sheets of carbon paper. I don’t miss wasted paper balled up and tossed into a garbage can. Or faint lines of type when I needed to change the ribbon but didn’t have a replacement on hand.

Then again, there really was something unique about the tappity-tap and ding… something satisfying about flinging that carriage back to start a fresh line.

Ah, the nostalgia! I think I’ll go plug in the Smith Corona and give it run, just for old time’s sake. It doesn’t have a carriage per se, but it still makes a good thunk when I hit the return key.

What’s been your best writing tool – pen and paper, typewriter, word processor, computer? Any antiques in your closet?

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Google Doodles and Search Options

There are many search engines to help us find things on the Internet. In fact, many is an understatement. I found an alphabetical list and only got to the K’s before counting 100! I’m sure you’ve heard of the most popular ones such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, AltaVista, Cuil, Excite, and Lycos. One that I’m not familiar with is GigaBlast. I learned it “was developed by an ex-programmer from Infoseek [and] supports nested boolean search logic using parenthesis and infix notation. A unique search engine, it indexes over 10 billion web pages.” It also claims to be “the leading clean-energy search engine”, whatever that infers.

Years ago I set Google as my homepage because I had a slow Internet connection and wanted an efficient search engine without graphic frills that loaded quickly. Today the frills don’t matter, but I still like Google. Apart from its searching ability I enjoy its Google Doodles.

“Google Doodles are known as the decorative changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists and scientists.” It’s a little thing, but I like knowing, for instance, that today is the birthday of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer, and I’m fascinated by the doodle chosen to illustrate the occasion.

The history of Google Doodles is found here, plus there is an archive of all the logo doodles here.

About now I can hear you wondering, “So, does this have anythings at all to do with writing?” But, of course!

Next to the actual writing, research is the writer’s constant occupation. Before the Internet made its way into our homes searching for information was a ponderous process. If you wanted to use a particular place as a story setting you first physically took yourself there to explore and record the necessary details. If you needed historically correct data you haunted the library. Police procedures? Legalities? Medical complications? You sought out and interviewed knowledgeable individuals. Now everything is available at the click of a computer key. There’s no excuse for inaccuracies in our writing.

(There’s also the topic of making yourself visible to others via search engines, but that’s better left for a future post.)

How much and what kind of research do you do for your writing? Which is your favourite search engine?

Mac or PC?

In a blog comment on my News ‘n Notes post, Lindsay said,

“… this Apple [Tablet] reader is bad news. I’m already a total Apple junkie (ipod, iphone, macbook, imac, check!) and now another toy I’ll have to have….”

And it started me thinking. My Mac-computer-lovin’ self has always been outnumbered by PC users but lately several bloggers have mentioned having Macs. Maybe the balance is shifting. Maybe those ads are having an effect. Maybe it’s time to take stock.

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What computer platform do you prefer, Mac or PC? Why? Do you own any other Apple products?
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Nothing is ever simple, including Blogging

Anyone who uses a computer regularly knows the unique frustration of competing with an inanimate object. Reason tells us that computers don’t think, but reality suggests they have a mind of their own. When the internet is added to the mix everything — and nothing — changes. I know that’s contradictory, but it’s true.

 

Like computers, cyberspace can be intriguing, helpful and annoying, all at the same time . Its opportunities are limitless but its frustrations can be mind-numbing. Various sites have become blogging hosts which open new opportunities for writers. A blog becomes a communication tool allowing access to a world-wide audience. At least it does when everything works right. When things mysteriously stop working it can drive you crazy.

 

Such seems to be the case for FinePrint Literary Management agent Janet Reid. I follow her blog regularly, but recently haven’t been able to access it. I missed my daily dose of her knowledge and wit. After a little searching I discovered her blog has moved. The explanation is in her own words:

 

“My other blog is on the injured reserved list for unknown reasons. Blogger doesn’t seem to think anything is wrong; none of my other blogs are affected, and I’ve reached the limit of my tolerance for trying to figure out what’s wrong. This is the new blog.” — Janet Reid

 

So here’s a “heads up” for you to update your links and bookmarks. If you’re hunting for Janet she’s now located at http://jetreidliterary2.blogspot.com/

Today’s Musings

 

MUSINGS – 1

Rain slashes across the sky obliterating everything but a vague view of the nearby trees. Am I complaining? Definitely not! Every time I peer out the window I can tell there is less snow on the ground. I’ll be happy if the rain continues until the last vestige of snow disappears. I’m hoping that will happen tonight. Tomorrow morning at 4:44 a.m. Spring arrives and I can’t fathom saying “spring” and “snow” in the same breath.

 

MUSINGS – 2

After two months of replacing fried electronics compliments of our helpful insurance company, then initiating computers, installing software and finding lost data, I thought we had finally reached the point of being able to get back to work. Not so. Murphy apparently has a relative that lives in our attic and takes delight in piling one catastrophe on top of another.

 

While working on a chapter edit last weekend my ancient iBook laptop suddenly flickered into oblivion. You have to understand that it has been the indispensible extension of my hands when I’m in writer mode so its demise is truly devastating. We booked an appointment with a computer guru hoping for resuscitation but he pronounced it DOA.

 

After covering his ears against my moans for a couple hours DH decided life without a laptop was going to be unbearable and suggested we might juggle finances enough to buy a replacement.  So another new computer has entered our lives… an aluminum-clad MacBook… and my office desk sports mother/baby lookalikes while I record the serial number of what I realize is our thirteenth Apple computer in the span of about twenty-three years. How did that happen? I seem to recall that thirteen is considered an unlucky number. Maybe our present computers will outlive us.

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MUSINGS – 3

Chocolate chip cookies, when made with dark chocolate chips, are a healthy snack. I’m not kidding. Chocoholics everywhere have always known what the medical profession has finally confirmed. Dark chocolate contains nearly eight times the number of antioxidants than strawberries. So go ahead… dip those strawberries in yummy dark chocolate and lower your blood pressure at the same time.

 

Enough with the musing. Time to meander away from these computers and see if I can find a chocolate chip cookie.

 

It’s a Clicking Addiction

Various media reports suggest people are beginning to consider video gaming fascination and internet obsession as a borderline addiction. There are stories of young and not-so-young fanatics closeting themselves for several hours a day to the detriment of their health as well as home, school and work responsibilities. That seemed just a teeny tiny bit exaggerated, but then I discovered there is actually a computer addiction service here in the lower mainland that claims “excessive gaming accounts for 80% of one youth counsellor’s caseload”.

 

There is also the website of Maressa Orzack, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist who believes “we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg”. She calls the syndrome “computer addiction, internet addictive disorder or cyberaddiction” and says, “It is a problem very similar to pathological gambling or compulsive shopping.”

 

About now we may be feeling that if this is the case then “they” surely need to do something about it — take control of themselves, step awaaaay from the computer, get a life.

 

But wait… think about it. You got to this page by clicking from somewhere else, didn’t you? Posting this entry wasn’t my first internet access of the day either. I hate to admit how much time slips away unnoticed each time I take “just a moment” to access my e-mail, check my Facebook account, visit the literary and local news sites, see what new comments may have been added to my current Yahoo group, or if there are friends’ Flickr pictures to see, new blog entries to read… and on it goes.

 

By far the greatest amount of my intended-to-be-brief interlude from doing something more productive is taken up by reading blogs, accessing my favourites and clicking links from one to another. Now THAT’s addictive. If you don’t think so, I challenge you to join me in keeping a 24-hour log sometime during this week. Record the time as you settle into the chair in front of your computer for your daily dose of wit and wisdom. Then record the time when you leave the session. Repeat for every session during that day then add up the minutes.

 

I suspect we will all be shocked at how much time we really spend wandering around cyberspace, and just how much hold this clicking addiction has on us.

 

Making Tasks Harder Than They Need To Be

This isn’t a rant. At least, I don’t think it is. Then again, I rant about things that drive me crazy and this does. Didn’t I recently complain about word processing software that thinks it’s smarter than I am? Yes I did.

 

During all our post-power-surge equipment replacement hoopla new software was on the list and it had to be compatible with the new computers. Enter “Office 2008 for Mac”. I’ve used MS Word for many years and loved it, but moving into the innovations of this version hasn’t been the load-and-go, plug-and-play easy operation that was always a selling point for Apple computers and the software developed for them. The first document we e-mailed to an associate using this version was met with a “Sorry, but I can’t open this docx thing.” There is a provision for saving documents in a prior compatible format but I have to make a conscious effort to do it each time. Formatting options that used to be intuitive now have me searching through the manual.

 

That brings a question to mind. Why does every new piece of technology have to be more “sophisticated” than its predecessor — more complex with more features that I don’t want and quite likely won’t use? Software is supposed to make our work simpler. I don’t need a word processor that doubles as a draw program, throws mini clipboards onto my page every time I do a cut-and-paste, or formats text in such a way that it translates into strange symbols when copied onto a webpage. Yes, I’m told there’s a way to turn off all the autoformatting options but so far I haven’t succeeded in doing so.

 

As a writer there are some features I appreciate, but a wordprocessor that attempts to do all things for all users is bound to fail somewhere. Enough said. There now, that wasn’t a rant, was it? No, I didn’t think so.

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree…

Our couple of semi-rural acres are totally surrounded by trees, mostly evergreen, and I love them. I love their stature, their lush greenery, the privacy they give us and the habitat they provide for wildlife. We’ve removed a few through the years but never felt that any of the others were a risk to our home.

 

And none of ours has been, but exactly one week ago a tree somewhere else in the neighbourhood created long distance havoc. The heavy snow load apparently caused it to come down on power lines that blew out a BC Hydro transformer. Like many of our neighbours, we experienced a resulting power surge that fried all the computer equipment in our two home offices, plus the fridge and television among other things. Thank goodness for insurance!

 

I suppose it could have been worse, but this week has been very long and very stressful.

 

Betrayed by a tree. 

 

Beginning the replacement process

Beginning the replacement process

Tuesday Twosome

 

I’m ranting today, not once but twice.

 

The first frustration is war. Since this is Remembrance Day I am remembering not one war but many. I am remembering that over a hundred thousand Canadian lives have been lost in wars. Members of my family have done their part to try and counteract oppression and preserve freedom. But when the present conflict eventually ends, another will undoubtedly rise up to take its place and the killing will continue. I’ve always believed that fighting never solves anything. It only proves who is the biggest bully. We yearn for peace but don’t know how to achieve it. If only all of mankind would stop and listen to that “still small voice”—the one telling us how real peace will be found.

 

The second frustration is ineffective service. I’m having wireless internet problems this week, unable to maintain and now even obtain a signal wirelessly on my laptop computer. After first contacting our server and determining that the modem is working well, I contacted the company who makes my Belkin wireless router. That person, while probably a competent technician, had such a heavy accent that I could not understand much of what he said. I struggled to decipher and comply with his various instructions but when the technician was ready to take his leave I wasn’t confident that the problem had been solved. It hadn’t. Within seconds of terminating the call, I was back offline. And so the router is disconnected and our three computers are presently taking turns accessing the internet by being directly plugged into the modem, one at a time, until I muster the courage to phone for Belkin tech support once more. I’m not ready to face that frustration again quite yet.

 

Instead I’m going to retreat to the kitchen and bake our Christmas fruitcakes. I don’t need a techie’s assistance to do that job successfully, and while I assemble the ingredients I’m going to listen to Christmas carols – the ones that proclaim “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”!