Sunday, April 24, 2011

Portable Convenience

I haven't mentioned my Kindle here yet, ignoring my blogging duties again. I've had it since right after Christmas and have had plenty of time to play with it, so now I think it's time to write about it.

Boring stuff first:

The Kindle I got is the current generation 3G/WiFi graphite colored model with a 6" pearl e ink display. Basically what that means is that with 3G and WiFi connections I can get on the internet from anywhere I wish. I'm currently in Germany and have no problems connecting to the Kindle store and purchasing books.

What do I think? I think the Kindle is a great idea that's in the process of becoming the best idea, but it's not there yet.

What I like about it:

The display is amazing. Pulling the Kindle out of the box for the first time there is a message on the screen. Usually, when you buy an electronic product with a display there is a sticker over top the display. But that wasn't the case. The E Ink pearl display is crystal clear and mimics the look of a page from a book extremely well. The type is very clear and easy to read (it is also adjustable to be able to see easier, something that those dead tree books can't do for you). The message itself just stated that the device needed to be plugged in and charged for a couple of minutes, then it could be used.

The cord used to charge the Kindle is a no-frills type cable. One end is a standard USB connection. The other end is a micro-USB. There is also an adapter that connects to the USB end that allows charging from a standard 120 volt wall outlet. The adapter can be used with 240 volt outlets as well-with the correct adapter plug, of course. Now that I was charging I was ready to go. I slide the on switch to the right, as per the on-screen instructions, and I was ready to read.

Turning on the display causes the screen to go black then white. The words or pictures show up after less than a second. Again, the screen is amazingly crisp, clear and very easy to read. I hate using my cellphone in bright sunlight. The colors on screen wash out and the display becomes hard to read, not so with the Kindle. In bright, direct sunlight the display is perfectly clear-even more so the brighter the light. Unlike LCD displays, there is little to no glare, so there in nothing preventing you from taking the Kindle outside to read.

One thing I wasn't sure about with the Kindle-and why I was looking at a competitors model of ereader-is the keyboard on the device. I wasn't sure I'd want or need the dedicated keyboard. I will say that it's not as obtrusive as I thought. I don't use it a lot, but I like it for when I do use it. There are a few buttons on the keyboard that are essential though. You have menu, home and back buttons that are required for navigating the Kindles menus. You also have the 5-way controller (basically a button with a 4-way button bordering it) for making menu selections. All the buttons are clearly marked and easy to use.

Getting books to read is simple and with the 3G/WiFi model there are a couple of ways to do it. First, you can connect the Kindle to a computer and manually transfer books to the device, just like you'd do with any external hard drive. Second, you can connect wirelessly to the Kindle store and download books directly from there. Navigating the store from the Kindle is easy as well. Book downloads from 3G/Wifi connections take a matter of seconds and happen automatically. The amount of on-board memory, at 3 gigabyte capacity, is sufficient to store a few thousand books on. Plenty of room even for the most serious book collector.

Selecting books on your Kindle to read and reading them are simple processes. Selections are made from the home screen using the 5-way controller. Opening a book will take you directly to the beginning, unless you have already started the book, in which case it will take you to the last page you were on. Turning the pages is accomplished by buttons on either side of the device. There are two on each side-the larger bottom button is page forward with the smaller upper button being page back. As I mentioned, paging through an ebook is quick, less than a second per page.

As no device is perfect, there will always be room for improvement. Attempting to navigate the menus quickly often leaves artifacts and can be slow at times. I also found the 5-way click button awkward to use under certain circumstances. Normally all you'll use are the up and down and select aspects of the controller, but when you want to say, search for a word in the built-in dictionary, navigating there can be a bit of a chore. Neither one of these concerns break the device and it works very well for what it was designed for. The quality of the device itself is also top notch, no complaints there.

There are more features and functions available on the Kindle, but since I'm not trying to write a book here, I'm going to cut this short. Final word? The Kindle is definitely a worthwhile light weight and easy to use portable ereader. I have no compunctions recommending this device to any book reader. All they have to do now is add a touchscreen and color and the Kindle will be perfect.

So Far So Good

OK, so, first practice is up and I don't think it's that cringe-worthy. I know that it's short, it doesn't introduce the characters at all-other than a couple of base descriptions-and there is no conclusion. But, it's just practice after all. As I get further along in this process (if I stick with it like I should) I'm going to need feedback. As I mentioned two posts ago, I know I'll be bad at this, that is why practice is important. And practice I shall.

Now, what did you think?

Practice Begins

I mentioned practicing in my last post. Well, going through this book on writing that I'm reading are some practice exercises. Here's the first one. Don't be too harsh, I'm new at this.

Everything was going well on the flight. I had a window seat with no one beside me. The flight attendant even gave me an extra pillow. How nice of her.

“Where’d the guy go that was sitting here?”

I started from my daze and looked toward the voice. Standing in the aisle was a guy, mid-forties, bald with a serious weight problem. He was looking in my direction, eyebrows arched. I rubbed my eyes and took a deep breath, gathering my thoughts.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said ‘Where’d the guy go that was sitting here?’. Well, where’d he go?”

I could tell this guy was a winner and I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to him. All I wanted was to catch a bit of a nap before we landed in an hour. With the schedule I was keeping today I’d be hitting the ground running. I won’t have the chance to close my eyes again for another 15 hours, one of the great perks of my job-no sleep ever.

“Look guy”, I replied “I don’t know who’s sitting there. I thought I saw someone earlier but I’m not sure. Ask the flight attendant.”

“I did ask the flight attendant and he doesn’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.”

This guy was testy with my and all I did was tell him that I didn’t know who was sitting there. I did know that I was very tired and going to be pretty bad off if I didn’t catch at least a bit of a nap.

“Easy there fella. I’ve been sleeping most of the flight, which is something that I want to get back to doing. If you’ll excuse me I’ll be attempting to do just that again.”

I begin closing my eyes, shutting out the noise and light of the cabin. Trying to sleep at 50,000 ft with a bunch of strangers around you being annoyingly loud is bad enough. Having one of those strangers come up to you and ask a stupid question knowing that you are trying to sleep is something else.

“Hey asshole!” fat man shouted, “I’m fucking talking to you.”

I slowly opened my eyes and turned toward the aisle. There, still standing by the empty seat, was the stranger. I can tell that he was upset now, and not just by the tone of voice that he used. His formerly pale face had turned a shade not far off from the red commonly seen on a beet, visible capillaries added to the darkening shade. His brows were furrowed, eyes blazing. His teeth were clenched through slightly parted lips. I could see the rise and fall of his chest, pumping like an over-worked bellows. This guy was seriously pissed off and was looking like he wanted to take it out on me.

“Don’t you EVER turn away from me again! I asked you a simple fucking question, so answer it. Who the fuck was sitting here?”

I put up my hands and try to remain as calm as possible. With the possibility of violence from this guy I did not want to be here. I was stuck in a window seat, barely able to move my legs more than a few inches forward and back. Defending myself if he decided to come over the seats at me would have been a problem. I was completely screwed.

“Easy man, there’s no need for this.” Isn’t there supposed to be an air marshal on every flight these days to deal with problems like this? Isn’t that way the big hiring push was in the news a few years ago? Where the hell was he and why hadn’t he taken this crazy out yet? “I haven’t seen anyone in that seat all flight. There isn’t anyone sitting there.”

“Bullshit!” the wacko said. “I saw someone here. There WAS someone here. You had to have seen him. I recognized him. You have to tell me who he was and where he went.”

“Look, I don’t know who was sitting there. I didn’t see anyone. You sure that you have the right seat. Maybe you’re thinking of the one of the others further down the aisle?”

“No, he was here” he said. There was an immediate change to the stranger. He started looking less angry and more confused. The color left his face and went back to the natural shade of too pale. His brows were still furrowed, but they shifted from anger to concentration. “He has to be here, I saw him. I saw him right here.”

Now this guy had my attention. He was clearly upset about something. He truly believed that someone had been sitting there, someone that he knew. Or someone that he thought he recognized. And that’s when the late marshal showed up.

“Is there a problem here sir?” the marshal asked the stranger.

The stranger looked dumbly at the marshal, his face beyond pale. “He’s on this plane, I know he is. He has to be, because I saw him here. He was right here” the guy said as he gestured toward the empty seat.

“Who was here sir? Who are you looking for?” The marshal put his hand around the guy’s right bicep, ready to restrain him if necessary. The flight attendant must have told him about the outburst and he was ready, taking no chances.

“He was.” The stranger looked pleadingly in the marshal’s eyes. “You have to help me find him, he’s here.” Getting more frantic now, “He’s on this plane; you have to find him and arrest him!”

“Arrest who, sir? Who are you talking about?”

Seeing this exchange sends a chill down my spine. I know what he’s going to say before he says it. It’s my job to know things first, to know fact before anyone else does. I see where this is headed and wish I’d taken the later flight.

The stranger, tears welling in his eyes, looked from the marshal to me, and back again, his shoulders slumped. All I could see in front of me was a broken man, one that had obviously lost everything.

“He is…” began the stranger. “The guy I’m looking for-the guy I saw sitting here…He killed my wife, two days ago. And he’s somewhere on this plane. Right now.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts And Words

No, I didn't drop off the face of you-at least not intentionally. I know it's been a very long time since I've written here, and I feel ashamed for it. Err, not really, but that's beside the point. I have been neglecting my blogging duties. I should had have my Blogger Badge™ revoked by now, the Publishing Police must be napping. OK, what have I done lately?

So there I was, in the field (and by "in the field" I mean in a heated building in the Hoenfels Training Area in Hoenfels, Germany, not an actual field) working from 9 PM to 9 AM for three weeks straight, no days off. That kinda sucked, but I had time to think. And what did I think about? I know it's going to be hard to believe, but I thought about writing. Writing? But I haven't written anything here for ages. If I'd been thinking about writing why didn't I just write here? I have an answer for that. I was not thinking about blogging writing, I was thinking about writing writing, as in fiction writing. I heard that, I do not write fiction here. This blog is the honest to Spaghetti Monster truth.

Was that too obscure or obtuse a reference? Don't know what obscure or obtuse means? Never mind.

I have tried to write fiction before, but it never seemed to work out. I mean, it's daunting just to think about doing it. I actually want to create something original and have other people read it. I know the stuff here is original, but it's all me. I want to challenge myself a bit and write about something I don't necessarily know. And that lead me to the idea of writing fiction. Good thing for me I had a story idea or two, or so I thought at the time. I wrote a beginning to...something. I don't know what yet, could be a short story, could be longer. I also threw together a short outline for a story. Unfortunately, the outline has one problem-lack of a complete plot. After a week of fleshing out characters and an outline, I shelved my idea.

After I returned home I was still thinking about writing, about the characters that I had outlined, and I realized I needed a bit of help if I was going to get this right. First step: Get books on writing. OK, did that and have read the first one. After I read the rest comes step two: Read more books. Huh? I've read hundreds-if not thousands-of books already in my life, why would I need to read more? Because now that I know what to look for (6 layers of plot, theme, 3 act structure, style, etc...) I can analyze the books in the category that I'm shooting for and see how the professionals do it. Third: Practice writing a little bit each day. I was thinking that this would probably be the hardest step for me. It's not a problem for me to find the time to write, it's just the idea that when I do start to write I will be bad at it. Then I realized: Of course I'll be bad, that's the point of practicing every day, to be less bad as time goes on.

And that's my plan, for now at least. It's not much, but it's a start. Do I expect to become a world famous author out of this? No, but I might be able to self-publish something. If I don't get that far I'll still be happy creating something, even if I'm the only one to see it.

I can take one consolation from my blog. I have written here a long time now, and I have gotten better. I just need to refocus that experience in a new way. Well, here goes nothing.