Tech Problems, Health Problems, and Writing

First came the technology problems…

THOSE began when the fan on my laptop—which was already making groaning noises from time to time—decided to start groaning constantly. Now, I don’t have a problem taking computers to bits. It’s part of my job, really. But taking a laptop apart is not the same as dismantling a desktop system, and not something I’d do lightly. In this case, though, I didn’t have a lot of choice. Anyway, the thing’s way past warranty. So I made sure everything important was backed up (thank you, Google Drive) then grabbed tools and bit the bullet.

One thing I learned: there is a federal law requiring that at least half of the mass of all laptops must be accounted for by screws. I swear, I’ve never seen so many screws come out of a single device. Keeping them all organised so you know where to put them back is a job in itself.

There’s another law that says getting to the fan—one of the few moving parts in any laptop, and therefore one of the most likely to require cleaning and eventual replacement—must entail dismantling the entire laptop. Sure enough, to get to the fan on my laptop, you have to remove the bottom cover, then the case, and take out the hard disk drive and the DVD drive on the way. Then you turn it over and take the keyboard off. Then you unscrew the plate under that, and carefully remove three tiny, self-destructing connectors (seriously—the one that holds the ribbon cable from the keyboard sprang apart and it was pure luck I found the important bit of it where it landed on the corner of my desk). Then you can lift that plate away. Et voila, you can get to the fan. Easy. (In case you think I’m kidding, you can see the video I used for reference here.)

Using a pair of tweezers and a can of compressed air spray I removed a huge wad of fluff and hair from the fan (Questions: How did that much muck get past the filter? I think the truth is, the filter’s there to stop that crap escaping). Then I put it all back together again, crossed my fingers and switched it on. And found that the fan was now making a much cleaner sounding groaning noise. So I guess that’s an improvement, right?

Sigh… I guess the fan itself is just plum tuckered out, so now I’ve ordered what I hope is the right replacement fan, and when that gets here I’ll take the laptop apart again to put that in. Here’s hoping I can manage that without destroying the thing. It’s still a damned good laptop and I’d be sorry to see its end.

In the meantime, since I HAVE TO WRITE and I can’t do that with a fan that (1) sounds like a coffee grinder powered by an electric drill and (2) could go tits-up at any moment, causing the CPU to turn into a white-hot blob of useless, I bit the bullet and bought a cheap laptop just to write on. It’s brand new and my old laptop outperforms it. Sad. Also, Windows 8.1 Update sure looks a lot like Windows 7, apart from the Start menu. I haven’t figured out what’s supposed to be different about it. Maybe that’s just me.

[UPDATE: The new fan arrived yesterday (Saturday) and so I took the laptop to bits again. And it turned out the new fan wasn’t the right one, and there was a great wailing and the gnashing of teeth. However, number-two-son came by the house yesterday evening, listened to the tale of woe, and promptly grabbed the laptop and the tools. He then proceeded to fix the old fan by tearing its skin off and ripping its guts out, giving them a quick clean and lube, and putting it all back together again—something I would have been very nervous about trying myself. The laptop is now back up and running, and the fan is like it was the day I bought the laptop three years ago. As for that brand new laptop, it’s going back to the store. Not because I don’t need it any more (I can always use a second laptop), but because it’s so loaded up with OEM junk software that it’s just crippled—HP’s unnecessary extra update software, and the worst possible choice of bloated, inefficient, intrusive antivirus they could have made, and goodness knows what else. I’d be typing along, then suddenly notice the last couple of words I typed hadn’t appeared on the screen and the mouse had stopped working. Then a couple of seconds later it would free up and carry on as if nothing was up. For a machine with a quad-core processor clocked at around 2.5GHz, that’s just wrong. Anyway, the point of this update is everything is back to normal and all is right with the world.]

Second technology problem: our DVD player went TU on us the same day. It was a five-disk changer, which is really, really nice because you’re not having to get up all the time to switch disks. So of course, when I went to the store to see about a replacement, I found that Sony doesn’t make multi-disk units any more. No-one does, apparently. Not only that, but the plugs on the “older” (i.e. more than six weeks old) speakers won’t fit any “modern” DVD player. (Standardization, anyone?) So I had to buy a one-disk player with a whole new set of speakers, even though there’s nothing wrong with the old speakers. Sony, you wacky bunch of fun guys… please look up the words “standards” and “obsolescence”, and maybe “wasteful” when designing your gear.

Then came the health problems…

SINUS infection, fever, sore throat, headache. Whatever it is, it’s knocked me flat on my back pretty much all week. Tuesday, I was going to take the afternoon off sick. It didn’t happen because of an important system deployment happening Tuesday night. That ended up being a twelve-hour day. Wednesday, I decided to take the whole day off sick. That didn’t happen, either, because of problems that came up stemming from the previous night’s deployment. Thursday, at least, I was able to take the afternoon off. Today (Friday) I’ve been feeling somewhat better—the fever appears to be gone, the sore throat is now just hoarse, and I seem to have a little bit more energy. I think I’m on the mend.

…But I’ve been able to write, at least

I’VE been working on Smoke & Mirrors, editing what was written already. And just a little while ago I hit a milestone: I finished editing the last of those written scenes. Starting very soon—probably tomorrow—I begin writing actual new content. Here’s a few stats:

Scenes written and edited: 89

Scenes total: 130

Words written so far: about 60,000

Estimated final word count: about 90,000

I’ll see about providing regular updates with progress, right here, every week if I can manage it.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Five Months

I just realised that tomorrow marks FIVE MONTHS since I switched from “real” cigarettes to e-cigs.

In all that time I’ve had only one lapse, at work, after a very high-stress couple of hours diagnosing and fixing a bug under an extremely tight deadline. We did it, but then I and my co-worker (who was also switching to vaping, but hadn’t quite packed in the tobacco at that time) stepped outside for a puff, and I scrounged just one cig off him. I won’t be doing that again—he smokes menthols.

Five months. It doesn’t seem like that long. Does that mean I can call myself a non-smoker? Ex-smoker, probably. Vaper is the proper term, I think. And perhaps not even that for much longer—I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to be getting through as many Vuse cartridges in a week as I used to; my consumption of the things seems to be dropping without me even trying. I wonder what would happen if I actually made an effort to deliberately cut down on those now?

Smoke & Mirrors

FRIDAY was a nightmare at the day job. An eleven and a half hour day with no breaks except when I forced myself to go to the kitchen to get coffee. (Warning: technical details ahead.) The biggest problem was trying to get two applications talking to each other over a secure connection—and even when I packed it up at around 7pm I still hadn’t got it working. The answer came to me this morning and so—even though it’s Saturday—I fired up the work laptop and fixed it. Normally I’d have left it until Monday, but it was bugging me.

With that out of the way I was able to focus a bit on some writing work. Not Artemis, though, because (wait for it . . .) Artemis is DONE. Well, the first draft is done, as much as I can reasonably do. It’s ready to go to my copy editor for her first pass.

So I’ve dusted off another script I was working on before Gunn & Bohemia. The working title on this one is Smoke & Mirrors, and it’s kind of a shame that I can’t use it as the real title when the time comes, because it’s a perfect fit. (Curse you, Neil Gaiman, for picking all the best titles.*) I’ve mentioned before (and on my WiP page) that this one is “steampunk with a twist” but that I couldn’t say much more than that without giving it away. For now the details will just have to remain secret.

I was under the impression that I’d already written about half of the first draft before editing work on Gunn & Bohemia took centre stage. It turns out I did quite a bit more; of a hundred and twenty-nine scenes on the timeline, eighty-seven are already done, putting me at two-thirds.

Over the last few days I’ve been taking a good look at what I’ve written so far (the first time I’ve looked at it for something like two years) to refresh my memory and get back into the swing. Very soon—quite possibly tomorrow—I’ll pick up where I left off. Forty-two scenes to go. That’s a good number; thanks to Douglas Adams, an auspicious number. I have a good feeling about this.

Now, though, it’s Saturday evening and time for some relaxation. I feel like watching movies; earlier I watched Cloud Atlas (for about the sixth time, I think—it’s most definitely in my top ten films of all time), and I’m seriously considering watching it again. I really can’t think of anything else I’d rather watch right now.

So I’m off to grab a cold beer and do that. Until next time . . .

(* Just kidding about the curse thing. Neil Gaiman: if you’re reading this, I loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane. And American Gods. And Stardust. And Good Omens. Etc. I haven’t read Smoke & Mirrors, though. Sorry.)


YOU know the thing where people talk about how we fought two world wars, etc., for freedom?

Electing your leaders is part of that freedom. In many countries you CAN’T choose who leads. In the US, you have that right.

Without trying to over-dramatize: people have DIED to make sure you continue to have that right. Use it. Get out today and vote.


Achievement Unlocked: Artemis

A few minutes ago I finished a major (i.e. several weeks’ worth of work) editing pass of the typescript of The Artemis Device. That’s a working title, by the way, but it’s also not bad as a real title and so the final product might very well end up being called that.

The original first draft was written waaaay back, I think before Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia had been started. (Don’t quote me on that, though; I was juggling three or possibly four writing projects around that time, and I really don’t remember which order things got done in.)

Completing the original first draft was a major achievement, that much I remember. This time it’s even more of an achievement, really, because my publisher has already expressed serious interest. Right now my copy editor is busy working on, I think, two other projects from other authors, so she’s not quite ready to start looking at Artemis. That’s ok, though, because it needs just one more pass before it’s ready for anyone else to look at. (You want details? Ok; I need to read it through one more time, comparing it against my timeline spreadsheet, to make sure the scenes are all there and in the right order, and to give me another chance to spot and correct any formatting, spelling, and grammatical errors I might have missed. I might even find some places where  things are inconsistent—that happens sometimes, when I make a change to some part of the story but miss one or two places that the change should impact.)

As for the book itself, it’s a kind of gothic adventure story with steampunk and science-fiction elements. It was inspired to a degree by other stories like Gormenghast and Dark City (the 1998 movie starring Rufus Sewell—one of my all-time favourite films). In it, a small group of people uncover a secret that threatens the lives of everyone in their city, and this is set against a background of royal family intrigue and murder. And that’s all I’m saying about it at this point.

Since it’s barely on my publisher’s radar at the moment, I have no idea how it’s going to fit into their publishing schedule. As such I have no idea when it’ll be out on e-shelves. If I had to guess, (and without trying to second-guess my publisher), I’d say sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

I just uploaded thirty-one files, one per chapter, to the cloud for safekeeping. On that note, it’s time for me to wander to the bedroom and relax with a couple of episodes of Person Of Interest.

Until next time . . .