23 December 2012


Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said that cutting the PBS subsidy from the federal budget was an act akin to deleting text files on a 500GB hard drive.
I just dug out an old 128MB flash drive I bought about ten years ago, and even with a few photos on it, barely 30MB has been used. The myriad of text files on it are probably not even a full megabyte.
I've been using DeviantART's Sta.sh Writer for the novella I'm working on, and it had been great up until just today, when I learned how utterly impractical it is. I remember writing something on an old Blackberry, a really terrible freeverse poem about nature vs. nurture, and having to open a new memo because more than a few hundred words threw its program into a tizzy. Before that, when I was writing  something on my old Mac in Simpletext, I had to split the story up into different files because the program couldn't handle a text file bigger than 12KB. I'm sure that's fine for an essay for middle school or even high school, but it seems monstrously unfair to anyone who wants to write anything longer. Yes, I can use another program, but why this aversion to large text files? Are people that afraid of novels?
Anyway, in completing a chapter just today, Sta.sh began showing me a bizarre and downright terrifying error message:

Someone else has edited this draft. 

Sta.sh is supposed to work like Google Drive in that the only people who can see your work are people with the URL for that particular file. There is always the possibility that someone could guess the URL possibly by typing random characters, the chances are astronomical to the point that a state lottery looks like a coin flip. As such, seeing this message stare back at me was horrifying; it meant someone was hacking my account. Worse yet, the view figures for the page reflected someone besides myself having seen the page once that day. I quickly went to my DeviantART profile and logged out of all other sessions, then logging out of the current one, just to be safe. Luckily, no other sessions that I didn't recognize showed up. I know that sometimes I get logged out of DeviantART and that my viewing figures will reflect this, so Sta.sh was no different. That said, I wasn't logged out, and nothing indicating a lapse revealed itself.
I put the error message in a search and found out, quite luckily, that this was not uncommon, with instances going back to the earliest months of the year. Apparently, if word of mouth is to be believed, Sta.sh Writer is not very fond of files reaching an excess of 64KB in size. This was a relief to hear, and it even matched my own data. When I'd finish writing something in Sta.sh, I'd copy and paste the text into another word program (namely Evernote and LibreOffice) for safekeeping. This is the only time I can see how big a file is, and sure enough it's been reaching the 64 mark. All this really means is that I have to move operations directly into one of the other word program, which isn't all that big of a problem, but there is a worry. It's one of those quirky little idiosyncratic behaviors that we're all prone to in some way, shape, or form.
When you work with a typewriter, even a more modern one with an LCD screen showing your first few sentences before committing them to paper (a buffer, of sorts), you have to think ahead, because you can't really go back. There's white-out and even some correct keys on certain models, but these feel like cheating, and often make weird noises or smell terribly, and just generally make your printed work look ragged and unrefined. You find yourself really mulling over every sentence before you put anything down. It's much the same for ink and paper; that's why essay questions on exams are often so taxing. Word processors fix a number of these problems, but have a few of their own added to the mix, if a little more intangible and hard to relate to in describing. You get used to how a word program works, the way it's laid out, the way the auto-save works, how the spell check picks up on certain quirks in your writing, and having to shift from one to the other can be very jarring, even affecting the way you write. Moving from a typewriter to a word processor means you can afford a few mistakes, but that can breed bad habits as well as hurting the quality of your sentences now that you're no longer turning each over in your head before putting fingers to keys.
I don't have much experience with LibreOffice, and I didn't get much use out of OpenOffice's writer, so a lot of its finer and innermost workings elude me. The biggest one is auto-save, something I've gotten far too spoiled by in recent years. I can remember writing a story on my old Mac IIsi, many years ago when I was still getting the hang of typing. I got into a real groove with what I was writing, staring down at the keys while frantically tapping away at them like Schroeder at his piano, only to look up and see that nothing I'd written made it to the screen. The program had frozen, and I was too busy looking down to see it. I was completely devastated, almost to tears. I knew right away that even if I could resume working right away (which I couldn't because I had to force quit the program and wait for it to boot up again), I'd never write exactly what I'd written before. Maybe that would have been for the best, giving me a chance to think about what I'd written a little more, but it was still a huge setback. Even now, I get nervous over similar problems with more modern programs, even ones with good auto-save, and find myself prone to small panic attacks when I get an error message telling me the sync operation has failed (even if it'll work perfectly well the next time it tries).
Maybe I just worry too much, but this is one of those things about working with text that haunts me when I write, more so than file formats and typesetting or anything like that. It's just so disconcerting that for all our technology, typewriters still hold so much superiority on account of their physicality and tangibility.
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