Get Out of My Way

There is a chance that the light at the end of the tunnel won’t be an oncoming train.

Look, it’s not that I hate change. Depends on the change and what it is. But I hate change that messes with my writing routine. Why?

Well, because if it were possible, I’d simply upload the story from the brain to the computer, with no intermediate stage.

But that’s not possible. So, once I’ve established a routine, I want the routine to stay the same.  I don’t know how many of you are like me….I suspect if I’d first written novels (well, I did but they were in Portugal, and I was young and….) on a typewriter, I’d have found it difficult to change to a computer.  As is I fought change every step of the way, since I embarked on this stupid path.

For instance, I wrote my first novel on wordstar on a TRS-80.  When Dan got tired of correcting every mistake by hand, he got me a PC that had spell checker.

I held onto that PC — using wordstar? — for 10 years, through thick and thin, until it simply gave out, and I had to go to a newer computer, with — gasp — Word Perfect. To which I held on, through thick and thin until indie, and the trash code WP leaves in ebooks made it untennable.

So, this year, in addition to being sick for two months and then under house arrest for two more, I’ve been fighting other disruptions.

Around the end of last year, my main computer started booting …. sporadically.  Any writer reading this knows what that does to a writer. You’re in the middle of a novel, and suddenly you can’t access it.  It’s a nightmare.

Unfortunately every time my husband, the computer expert, tried it, it booted perfectly.  So I did the only thing a rational being can do. I decided to relocate to my “after hours and travel” laptop in the living room.  This is less than ideal, simply because it is the traffic central of the household. (Now, I don’t like being alone upstairs, so we’re considering a great office relocation so Dan is with me in the second floor, but not being in the easy chair but at a desk is definitely better for writing.)

Then on Christmas Eve I booted up the separate publishing computer to publish deep pink…. and it balked.  Took me seven hours to upload a manuscript and do the necessary.

Yeah, no.

Then the rendering computer started having belly aches (and to be honest we knew when we gave it a new video card it only had a month.)

So the solution was a new super computer (not even joking) combining all three functions.

What it really means is that this week is profoundly unproductive and frustrating.  The curses coming out of the office as the new version of old programs (yeah, well, some didn’t work in the supercomputer) don’t do what I want them to. Or as I have to download a lot of filters from filter forge, or figure out what font I used for x are…. very creative.

But I can already sense this will be better.  And after this week, I should start being able to log serious writing time, knock on wood and the creek don’t rise.

Honestly, 2020 has been a pain in the ass.

But sometimes our environment, our writing process and our lives become clogged with things that work suboptimally.  And sometimes it takes a major disruption to make it work right again.

I’m HOPING that’s all this is, and that 2020 is a janus of sorts, opening the ways.  Perhaps with dynamite, but opening the ways.

I’ll go battle the disruptions and try to smooth the path to writing now.

You do the same.



  1. Ugh, I understand. I’ve had some MASSIVE art disruptions–years-long, atime–because my computer died or my graphics program stopped working or because I ran out of [$MATERIAL] and couldn’t afford another…

    Well, anyway, there’s a reason I’m working with Bic mechanic pencils and simple pens on printer paper these days, even though I know I should be using real materials. -_- (I HAVE real materials. But how do I know that I won’t be betrayed again???)

    I haven’t been sticking to my publish-every-weekday schedule like I wanted (I’d blame having children, but… really, it’s The Dark Cloud for the most part), but I’m drawing and publishing more than I have in years anyway. I hope the same happens to you. 🙂

  2. I suspect I’m going to be using this current writing computer as long as I can, just because the new versions . . . do not have USB ports. I have to have USB ports for the printer, and to power a DVD/CDROM drive. The adapter for the micro USB is OK for keyboard/trackball, but can’t power anything else. Grrrrr.

    1. Have you looked into a powered hub?

      Something like this is just a normal splitter/hub, but you can add a phone charger to a specific input so it will actually power stuff.

      There’s also the grandkids of the old laptop docking stations, we’re still shopping for one for the asyet unnamed camp trailer. (It needs a cool, space adventure type name.)

      1. Oh gods no, that will make matters worse; it’s still powering off the mainboard which very likely is part of the problem. You need something like this instead (or more than one, they can be daisy-chained)… first one I came to:

        I have one of that model (as a no-name) and another that’s Kingwin branded but otherwise similar, both USB3 and each with their own power supply.

        Note that if you fail to plug in the power supply, these hubs will still work so far as mainboard power can handle it. But it’s much easier on the PC to not have to power everything.

        1. Look closer– the one I linked can be powered off of a phone charger of the sort you plug into the wall.

          Chose it as an example because it was really inexpensive and almost everyone has at least one USB wall plug.

    2. Wait! What! No USB ports? What the heck? I’ll need to check that out. My laptop is about to go out. We have 2 others plus son’s gaming desktop, all with USB, but still. Long term we need the USB ports for the external HD drives, external CD, and the various smaller USB thumb drives. OneDrive won’t work. We have TBs of JPEG files. We’ve been digital pictures since 2005, & that doesn’t count the CD’s we could get when film was developed, sometime in the ’90s. We take A LOT of pictures.

      Sarah, I sympathize with the disruptions. One of the reasons I learned to despise dealing with hardware. I also understand the PIA when software changes on you. One of the reasons I was so fond of saying “I write software. I don’t know how to use other’s software.” Well I don’t unless, like everyone else, I actually use it. I know certain functionality should be there, doesn’t mean that it is, or that I could find it. But I digress. (Can you tell that might have happened recently, last night, with software hubby was trying to get to do something?)

      1. The new laptop is a Mac powerbook. I dislike it greatly. Yes, it is skinny. Otherwise? Blech. And I don’t like the Catalina OS. When I have my powerball and keyboard attached, the battery lasts about four and a half, five hours.

        1. I had to replace the laptop power pack. A critical cable part broke. Amazon had the exact model from DEL, still. Laptop problem? Unplug it. Battery life monitor has plenty of juice indicated. Nope, about <30 seconds to shutdown. Battery in laptop not replaceable. Touch pad wonky when clicking. Works moving mouse, but click, especially right click is wonky; no problem, Bluetooth Mouse fixes that.

          Actually gets to where it won't work even plugged in, then I'll take the thing apart and see if that is true or not. It is not like it is under warranty.

          1. I replaced the consumer grade Dell (running Linux) with a refurbished business machine from one of the sellers through the ‘zon. Got another for the shop, which came in handy when the power supply in the first one died at the beginning of the lockdown. Though not quite identical, it was easy to take the hard drive from the one and stick it in the other.

            Meanwhile, replacement power supplies are “essential”, so one came quickly. These beasties (Optiplex 990 and a 7010) have either a 1TB or a 2TB disk, and each has 10 USB ports. I have a USB external drive for main backups, and a second one that does a monthly backup.

            BTW, no-tool swaps for internal components is handy.

            I don’t know if Apple has business class machines available refurbished, but it they did, it might(?) be a good idea. OTOH, it’s Apple, Jake.

        2. My MacBook Air has a dying battery. Cannot work off the plug for an hour and 1/2 before it runs out of juice. Can’t get a new battery right now, Apple is not taking reservations at their stores. Can’t mail it in.

          I swear, if I wasn’t opposed to just junking a machine that needs repair, I’d buy another – NOT an Apple product. Meanwhile, I’m limping along with my Raspberry Pi for a desktop – I replaced the Pi 3b with a Pi4 – it randomly freezes, and has had to be rebooted more than a few times.

          The Canakit people are unreachable right now.

    3. They do make wireless printers. And it you have a network router, you can plug one in directly via Ethernet on certain printers.

        1. My Brother laser printer does wireless, wired ethernet or wireless. I ended up with door #2 since the wire can go behind the bookcases. It was enough hassle getting the Linux drivers and the control system talking with the printer without adding wireless in the mix.

          I use wireless when I need the laptop or the Kindle has to download a book or three, but otherwise, the WiFi is off. I much prefer copper.

    4. Whiskey. Tango. Photon-Torpedo?

      My freakin’ *Raspberry Pi* has *4* (2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0) USB ports. SO.. HUH?
      Is the maker whining how bad their foot hurts, having shot it so much?

        1. Based on comments I’ve read about the Pi4, make sure it has plenty of power (some USB power supplies don’t provide enough power), and think about adding a heat sink.

        2. No, but I admit I haven’t been using it for much nor pushing it when I have been. And I have the recommended power supply, and heat sinks and a small fan.

  3. I loved the old Leading Edge word processor that came loaded on our first PC (8088) so much that I moved it to my subsequent 286 machine. By the time I upgraded to an new machine with Win95 Word had come far enough along in its ease of use that I started using that instead. Routine is a fine thing.

  4. I use Onedrive because I have a terror of losing stuff– it even saves stuff you deleted.

    So my deleted items folder on Onedrive has like 40 of “.~lock.(bad pun summarizing story idea)” because Onedrive uploads the file while I am working on it, and then deletes it when the original is saved/updated.

    But I never have to wonder “do I have that on this machine?” if I have internet!

      1. *sympathy*

        If you can ran about specific stuff, maybe folks can help you brainstorm a solution?

        I have stuff like LibreWriter lets me “pin” recent documents, so I never actually touch Onedrive unless I’m doing somethign else, or setting up Yet Another Fing Computer.

  5. “To which I held on, through thick and thin until indie, and the trash code WP leaves in ebooks made it untennable.”
    Sigh, I remember this one author dumped a handful of those older format files on me to clean up and reformat in MS Word. Lots of work, fair amount of cussing and swearing, but most rewarding in the long run.
    Actually miss those days.
    And you still owe me breakfast.

    1. Ouch. When MS Word is the GOOD alternative… *shudder*.. last time I experienced that it was against WP 5.1 for DOS with the “You have seven limbs to press the SAVE keys, right?” UI.

      1. I do all my copy edits in Word to take advantage of its track changes feature. I return a suitably renamed file to the author so they can see every change I’ve made to their perfect prose.
        Because it’s so ubiquitous there are also well established conversion engines that can take a Word file and turn it into e-book formats. Not without some tweaking, but certainly without having to learn to code.

      2. I remember when WordStar decided to change the key bindings in their latest and greatest. I was not a happy camper.

  6. “2020 is a janus of sorts”

    Was thinking of a similar, shorter word myself . . .

  7. I back up every book I write as I write it. Initially it is backed up every two weeks or so, then every week, and as I approach completion every day – and when I am really paranoid at lunchtime and bedtime..

    Since my books consist not only of text, but also digital images, artists’ and mapmakers’ instructions and files with graphic illustration for the artists and mapmakers losing work in progress is fatal

    I back up each book on a separate data stick, transfer a copy of my files to my laptop (my writing computer is a desktop with marvelous image-editing software) and keep each book on a separate data stick.

      1. Oh so very much yes. I have seen so many computers die for no reason, hard drives crash, operating systems become corrupted, servers crash, USB stick puke randomly, that I back up sometimes hourly.

        This is a USB write to two (2) different sticks, over and above the NAS I have on the network, because I might have to walk out of the house. I also keep off-site backups.

        The ultimate backup of all things are the old hard drives stuffed in a drawer. Periodically I replace drives just because, and the old ones get tossed in a drawer. To some that’s clutter, to me its a known copy of pictures and etc. from 2005 that I need because something broke.

        USB ports and newer laptops:

        Yes, all the hardware makers are in love with the USB-C format. That’s the too-small little non-directional one that Samsung puts on their phones these days. Pretty soon laptops will only have that format.

        Deja poo. I have seen this shit before. Remember when CGA went to VGA? New cable. Then VGA went to DVI, then HDMI, then most recently Display Port.

        Hubs solve this problem. I have an unpowered USB-C dongle that I use on my el-cheapo laptop tablety thing, that gets me two USB-regular and an HDMI port. There are others on the market that have a network connection, or are externally powered for charging your phone etc. I use it to run a projector for presentations, but it can also go HDMI to a television getting you video and audio. Very handy.

        Nothing to worry about. Buy a hub, and back up ALL your crap 40 different ways. Some day you will thank me.

        1. I’m a big fan of my do-everything hub. It plugs into a USB-C port on the computer, and has an Ethernet port, a USB-C port, 3 USB-A ports (mixture of USB2/3.1), an SD card slot, and an HDMI port.

          I’ve got plenty of USB ports on my laptop, but no Ethernet (needs a dongle), and no HDMI (likewise).

        2. The only conversion type that either never worked or at best was a PIA, tho to be fair the original was a PIA, was Serial to USB, or Serial to anything.

            1. Serial to Serial … Well true. If I was using the connection … non-tech end users OTOH … I was never so glad to see the handheld equipment go to USB connection.


              Serial was 6 steps by the time I got through eliminating 3 steps and stopping the one major oops clients pulled. These steps had to be in the correct order. Sure as god made little green apples, someone either did them out of order or missed a step. Phone triage was a PIA.

              USB, two steps, order didn’t matter …

              1. I do recall one simple scale display setup that had the field techs happy – it either started doing the job (if it got data it could use) or ran through a greet sequence show version, and ending with display of baud setting.

  8. I build frankenputers from salvage…. Too bad I’m not handy, I’d see if $OldComputers could be repaired, or just need a good cleanup. Balky for no reason used to mean victims of the Capacitor Plague (or if middle-aged Asus mainboard, the Southbridge Wiring Plague). Otherwise it’s often a sick or overloaded power supply, or clogged CPU cooler (common with cats in the house). When it starts one time but not the next, or randomly loses body parts, that’s usually power supply being overwhelmed.

    Get a *powered* external hub, or hubs (daisy-chain as needed), and plug all your crap into that instead. Onboard USB ports should not be expected to provide power to umpteen devices; that will often cause random shutdowns or ports-not-work because the PC’s power supply (especially in namebrand systems) just isn’t up to it… and even when it is, can overheat the southbridge which in turn will cause misbehavior and possibly early system death.

    The only namebrand systems I know of that come with a power supply adequate to feeding all the typical USB crap are Thinkstations. HP and Dell power supplies are barely up to feeding the base system, and sometimes not even that.

    And for spinning rust HDs still used as a boot drive, often the problem is that it hasn’t been defragged in living memory. This is the single most common cause of PCs Behaving Badly, followed by failure to ever clear out tempfiles. (Back when I did housecall repairs, I’d beat my clients with a large stick until they agreed to do this once a week, need it or not. Windows’ automated occasional-defrag is not sufficient. Unfortunately linux does not have an easy way to do this, and contrary to popular contention, linux can fragment files to a degree Windows can only dream of.)

    1. It was already a frankencomputer, built from sons’ discards when money was unholy tight.
      Given how hard it will be to get some parts for a while, we decided to replace for the future….. The idea being now new computer for 4 to 5 years…. when we’ll probably move.

      1. We gave 3 laptops, that were 5 to 6 years old to the network guy at work. He took them home to his HS student & him to dig into Laptops. In theory he could have built a frankenlaptop out of the working parts. Don’t know if he did or not.

        Between the three of them there was one working HD, one working screen, one working motherboard, one working power system, batteries?, memory should have been good, one good case. Whether the working parts could be cobbled into the one good case? Eh? They were pretty well toast. I didn’t have to recycle them once they got through tearing them apart.

    2. Dell’s XPS desktops are fine for both power and USB ports. 460W power supply, and 11 USB ports (mixture of USB-A and USB-C).

    3. There is sound reason (aka bitter experience) that current main computer has a kilowatt PSU that will likely NEVER need to supply a full 1000 Watts. Efficiency be damned, I *want* the PSU to “loaf along” all its LONG life. I won’t cheap out on PSU or HDD/SSD. Everything else? I can get by if I need to.

  9. My darling husband, knowing full well my dislike for unnecessary learning curves, bought two identical laptops for me the last time we had need of one, and were flush with cash. One became the facebook computer, used only for social media or travel, and the other was my main working & writing computer.

    I used my main computer happily for years, while keeping most files backed up to dropbox, and Peter made sure they both received the same upgrades. Then one day fan stopped working, and when I fixed it, the keyboard decided to start not working… and then it tuned out the fan was only temporarily repaired…

    The last of everything got uploaded to dropbox in a hurry, and then I bid adieu and downloaded it all on the formerly media computer. And discovered a few programs I’d never used on it were hideously out of date or missing, and there was muttering and discontent. However, it settled pretty rapidly. I declare, for a computer move, that was brilliant.

    Unfortunately, that does mean my “new” laptop is several years old. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to get an exact replica as backup/ Next time there will be a learning curve. But that trick worked once!

    1. See if there are refurbs on New Egg; I usually get mine off of office lease programs that have been “renewed” and put up.

  10. For anyone who is mainly concerned about a specific set of software and its configuration, used for fixed purposes (writing,graphics,editing), then one possibility is to create a virtual machine (VM) in a hypervisor. The hypervisor can be run either on a PC’s OS (Windows/Mac/Linux) or on a bare-metal server, and the VM could be moved to a new machine running the same brand of hypervisor (or possible even different brand if the virtual disk format is the same). You would be swapping out the HW that the hypervisor runs on, while the hypervisor would remain more or less constant, and the VM would remain completely constant. VMs and hypervisors are a very big area of discussion, and people in IT make careers out of managing them, so it’s really hard to give a whole lot of concrete advice in a comment such as this one. If you’re interested, some OS-based hypevisors are, Fusion (Mac), VirtualBox (Window/Linux), QEMU (Window/Linux). Bare-metal ones include VMWARE ESXi (there is a fully-license free version available), Hyper-V (Microsoft) and KVM (Linux). Yes, there is a fair amount of up-front work to set it up all, but it could certainly save you time and frustration down the road if your HW dies on you. You wouldn’t have to worry about installing the OS, the applications, the drivers, the settings/configuration, etc – all that would be in the VM. As long as you make backups of your VM, you should have a whole lot less pain when HW dies.

  11. You can’t have too many backups.

    My current backup scheme is:
    Two daily backups onto USB sticks that I keep in my pocket whenever I leave the house; all of the current work, plus my mostly-complete mail archives, which only start when I went to my current mail client in 1995 — the older ones going back to the 80s are in my dead-storage files, and I didn’t keep the ones older than that, and reinstall files for all my software, so I can reinstall on a new machine if necessary).
    An even-day backup stick, and an odd-day backup stick, a weekly backup stick, and a monthly backup stick, all with the same stuff as the daily backups. Weekly’s are kept for a year, monthly’s for five years.
    A full system backup on an external hard drive.
    And an older copy of the full system backup at a friend’s house; we try to swap a few times a year.
    If it sounds like I’m paranoid about losing work — yes, I am. But it meant that when I had a major hardware failure on my laptop over the Pacific at the beginning of a two-week working trip to Australia, I could buy a cheap laptop at duty-free when leaving the airport, spend the first day in my hotel room rebuilding, and had a perfectly good working environment by that first evening. It wasn’t as good as my full system — the hardware was less capable, and I only installed the software I expected to need while I was there — but I could get everything done that I needed to for the trip.

    And USB sticks are cheap. You can get 8G sticks from name brands for under $5 each, which might well be bid enough, depending on the size of your WIP.

    And, as mentioned upthread, you can also back up to the cloud (I tend not to, since I worry about speed to backup/restore — but it certainly is a perfectly good option for reasonably sized environments.

    It doesn’t matter what backup technology you use — pick what’s appropriate — but pick one (or more) and ensure that you use it (or them, as the case may be).

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