Friday, January 28, 2011

Off Topic: A Thank-You Note to Apple Computer

Dear Apple Computer:

I am a computer geek, and I have been for 30 years. My mother, by contrast, is not. She called me yesterday to tell me that her late 2005 G5 iMac/iSight was showing blue horizontal bands instead of booting. I have to say I cringed when she said it. It's never good to have severe video distortion on a computer, but particularly on an all-in-one machine like an iMac.

Worse, she was trying to power the machine up to write a paper for a class she's taking. The paper is due monday. This is the lady who gave me such grief for leaving things to the last minute. I suppose she could have waited until Sunday afternoon. I suggested, without much hope, that she call the Apple store nearest her for a genius bar appointment and take the iMac in to see what could be done.

I suggested she take her time machine disk to the store with her, just in case.

She went to the Apple store in Albuquerque, NM, and there her old iMac was indeed pronounced dead of a logic board failure. Pretty much what I expected from her description, and from the age of the machine. The G5 macs just didn't last as well as previous generations, and her imac outlasted all the other powerMacs in the family.

This was, however, the Apple store. The folks there are not inclined to throw up their hands and say "Sorry." No. The genius bar employee handed her off to a salesman. I suggested that she think about laptops, mac minis, and iMacs if she had to get a new machine. With the salesman's help, she did. Together they reached the conclusion that for her needs, a new iMac was the best deal in terms of performance per dollar and that it best suited her computing habits.

The machine she selected was the 21.5 inch iMac 3.0ghz core i3 with 4gb of RAM. In terms of raw clock speed, it's the fastest mac in the family. I'm trying hard to keep the lyrics from "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" out of my head. My mother would /not/ appreciate the comparison.

Looking at the specs, it's a hell of a computer. It probably doesn't really have enough video RAM for a hardcore gamer, but then my mother really isn't into EverQuest, World of Warcraft, or Eve Online anyway. Don't laugh too hard. I know some people's moms who are.

What she did not do was have the folks at the store restore her system from time machine. There was an extra charge for this, and more classes she didn't really want to attend anyway. She took the new machine home, set it up on her desk, marveled at the wireless keyboard and mouse, and then called me again.

She was at the part of the automatic setup process where Setup Assistant asked her if she'd like to recover data from another mac or a time machine backup. Yes, I assured her, that's what we wanted to do. Did she want to select everything? Again, yes, I assured her that's what she wanted to do.

18 minutes later, she went through the registration pages, and after that, her desktop was back, and everything was where she expected it to be. I suggested we probably should make sure time machine was set up on the new computer, so she opened time machine, threw the switch, and it asked if she wanted to use the existing time machine drive for the new computer. We heartily agreed.

And that was it. When we hung up the phone, the computer was busily creating its new time machine backup, she was busily reading email and checking her bank account. Oh, and thinking about starting her paper, since it is due Monday and all.

Now, I have nerd friends who have other brands of computers, and when they have a total hardware failure, or a total reload situation, they're down for a day, at least, and there's some tinkering involved to set the new machine up with all their accounts and all that. For my mother, buying the computer took longer than getting it up and running with all her data and applications. The longest part of that process was copying the data off of the time machine drive. It took maybe a dozen mouse clicks to make it all happen, and frankly if I'd been out of the house, she probably could have done it herself.

Thank you, Apple Computer, for putting the thought and the care into your hardware and software to make the recovery from such a catastrophic failure such a non-event, and for making her shopping experience at the Apple Store such a positive one.

There's only one thing missing. Someplace to email this to. So I'm posting this as an open letter to my blog.

-James R. Strickland

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Google Ebooks Ripoff - Refunded

Two days after I made my post about what a ripoff Google Ebooks was, I was contacted by Anna, on the Google Books team, who apologized and offered me a refund, which I accepted.

While my complaints about the quality of the ebooks they're offering stand, I have to say it's almost unsettling how proactive their customer service is. Kudos to Anna and the team for settling the matter.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Google Ebooks: A complete and utter rip-off

I've been following the ebook thing for a long time, but seldom have I seen such a disgusting rip-off as google e-books. Doing research for the novel I'm currently working on, it became necessary to have a copy of the Sears, Roebuck catalog from the late 1890s. Great, I figured. Here's a job for an ebook. I looked on Google's ebook site and they had one. I read through the information on it, and nowhere did it say the book was not available in PDF or epub format, so I purchased it.

First problem: the price. Google ebooks are either free or expensive, in this case I paid $9.95 (plus tax) for a book I could have bought on paper for $12 from Amazon.

Second, I'm stuck reading the book on the cloud. This sounds nicer than it is. It really means that on my desktop I'm limited to using their browser-reader, and on any other device it has to have an active, battery sucking internet connection. Oh, and by the way, there is no way at all to read it on Kindle. Let me repeat that, because it's one of the main reasons I'm calling this a rip-off: there is NO downloading this book. You read it from Google's servers or not at all. Basically, you're paying to access a web site.

Third, this book is a plain scan of the reproduction of the catalog. This is as primitive as ebooks get. It is in no way searchable. It has no internal organization other than was present when the catalog was published 114 years ago. While this simplicity (the only addition is a foreword from the republisher) would be charming in a paper edition, in an ebook edition it severely limits the book's usefulness.

Fourth, of course, is the web-page reader itself. Consisting of a web page listing the books you were fool enough to buy on this service, and a link that takes you to the ebook in question. Once there, you get a bar at the top of your browser to take you back to your "I wasted my money on THIS?" page, and a button at either edge of your browser to scroll, one page at a time, through the ebook, along with an uncalibrated slider at the bottom of the page so you can scroll to about the middle of the book, or somewhere near one end or the other. That's as accurate as it gets. Using the forward and back buttons is no special joy. Each time you hit one of the buttons, the web site has to send you another page (remembering this is a scan, so it's a big image file of some kind, so even on my 16mb/s link it takes a certain amount of time). If you hit it more than a couple times close together (I need to get to page 500) it will stop responding altogether. As if these defects weren't sufficient, there is one that is above all, unforgivable. If you shrink the window it buckles the text and hides the forward and back buttons altogether. Read that again. If you scale your browser window the PRINT BECOMES UNREADABLE and THE FORWARD AND BACK BUTTONS ARE HIDDEN. THE READER BECOMES UNUSABLE IF YOU TRY TO SCALE IT.

If you're entertaining the idea of buying a google book for any reason, I encourage you to think twice, maybe three times. Google has not done any work at all to make a quality product here.


Monday, January 3, 2011

That was the Decade that Was

The aughties - 2001 to 2010 - span my entire writing career. Wow. So much stuff has happened in those ten years. Consider: in 2001, I still worked in high tech. The country had a budget surplus, after years of competent management by the Clinton administration, and the worst scandal everyone knew about was the President's dalliance with a lady on his staff.

Compare that to now, when, when after 8 years of the Stupid, America has a trillion dollar deficit, its own secret police, secret prisons, the TSA, and a genuine concentration camp in Cuba (as opposed to a death camp, with which the term has become conflated)

So given the slow poisoning of American culture that I was seeing, the decay of the value of common decency, and in the face, four days in, of seeing that idiot re-elected in 2004, I wrote Looking Glass, my second NaNoWriMo novel, and if sales are any indication, the most likely reason you're reading this. I finished it in the summer of 2005.

Met friend Jeff (Jeff Duntemann) over regenerative radios in January of 2005. If for no other reason, I'll never regret getting into vacuum tube technology. Jeff is salt of the Earth.

NaNo 2005 gave me a second novel in the Looking Glass world, though it's not the one you're thinking. It had a lot of good ideas, but I was so desperate not to make another Catherine Farro novel that the characterizations in Last American Virgin are pretty weak. Not many people have seen that novel, and it's unlikely many will, at least in any recognizable form. However, in January of 2006, I had the idea for what is the second novel in the Looking Glass world, now known as Irreconcilable Differences. Long, boring drives through Kansas and Wyoming, combined with the buddy movie concept I tinkered with in Virgin to give me the idea. The first draft of the manuscript was finished at the end of September, 2006.

Looking Glass sold at the end of 2006, and I became a published author.
NaNo 2006 was when I wrote the first draft of the book that's kept me in knots since, Einstein's Blues. So many cool ideas in that book, including a new universe of planets that I still have ideas for, but so many fundamental problems with the plot. I still hope to finish this one, as I think it's worth it. It's also the last novel I was able to bounce ideas off of friend Mike with.

May 25, 2007, Looking Glass is released with another book in Flying Pen Press's release party at the Tattered Cover

July, 2007, we finally left Colorado Springs for a Denver suburb. Just in time, by the look of things, as while it took us six months to sell our house there, the economy there has pretty much dried up and blown away. The Denver paper covered how the Springs can't afford to run all their streetlights anymore, and how they were selling some of their police helicopters on Ebay. Yeesh. This process started in July and ended in early 2008.

October, 2007. My father passed away after a series of strokes.

January, 2008 found me feverishly completing work on the manuscript for Irreconcilable Differences, which I ultimately finished the first week of February. The book was released during WorldCon Denver (Denvention 3), on August 7, 2008, and the release party was at the Tattered Cover again. I did NaNo in 2008 as well, but the novel that resulted, Truth be Told, is another one that may never see the light of day. It was, notably, my first attempt to have a male narrator. Also, in 2008, Americans finally elected a President we could be proud of. After 8 years of George W. Bush, frankly Mickey Mouse would have been an improvement. President Obama is far from perfect, but he seems to grasp that decency is still an American value. Whether Congress agrees is another question.

2009 seemed like a not-very-productive year, and from an output standpoint that's true. But the truth is I spent much of 2009 converting most of Flying Pen Press's catalog into ebooks for sale on Kindle. 2009 also saw the death of friend Mike, who was killed by a drunk driver in a traffic accident. Between the two, I just didn't create much new material. This malaise lasted me well into 2010.

2010 after the end of June saw a comparative explosion of new work - a novella and a short story. The short story, Brass and Steel is in print now in Science Fiction Trails magazine, and the novella, On Gossamer Wings will be part of a double-novel with friend Jeff, due out sometime this summer. NaNo 2010 saw me extending Brass and Steel into the first novel of what may turn out to be a series of books. (Eek.) I'm working on that one these days.

2010 also saw the return of Republicans to power in the House, and it remains to be seen if this is a return to the Stupid of the early Aughties, or whether they're more sane these days.

And now it's 2011. A new decade. While my first instinct is to club the old one over the head with a shovel, bury it, and spit on the grave; looking back it wasn't all bad. I'm 43 now, I have a new career that I'm slowly kicking forward, still married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and I live in a place now where there's some hope. And of course, there's the new work, so hopefully my long-patient readers (that's you folks) will have new output from me soon.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

Blog Archive