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.

10 December 2012

Twitpic Is An Apt Name

My phone has been having fits lately, mostly over the number of apps that I have installed to the memory card as opposed to the internal memory. Here's the problem, the internal memory of my phone doubles as the RAM. Most smartphones, going all the way back to the SDA I had, which was an old-school Windows Mobile phone, had a task manager where you could turn off anything that was running if it didn't already have an exit button programmed into it.
Anyway, the problem lately has been that the phone will claim it can't find the memory card, meaning even my photos can't be seen. As you might imagine, this really irked me in the worst way. Eventually, it would just sort of "fix itself" if I gave it time, at worst just restarting the phone. To be fair, I am a bit rough with my phone, but in my defense, its entire design scheme is built around never turning it off. The HTC Rhyme has a number of quirky little features and accessories that really endeared me to it when I started up my new cell service. One of these items of interest is a charging dock that turns the phone into a kind of desk clock. In fact, it's my primary alarm clock that I wake up to for workdays. The issue with this is that I have to set aside time in the day to allow the phone to die, to run completely out of juice and essentially "let it rest" for a while.
The trouble lately is that it doesn't seem to be enough, and it continues to give me grief over not being able to see the memory card as well as not being able to run certain applications if they're installed to the memory card. I would be browsing sites or checking messages when suddenly I'd get an error message that some app I'm not even really using has "encountered an error" presenting me with the choices of "report" or "force close." It got to the point where I stopped getting eBay notifications because it couldn't really run the app anymore.
As a result, I tried to do a little bit of housekeeping today, going through all my apps, clearing caches and moving them onto the memory card or erasing them altogether if I could, while leaving some apps on the internal memory (apart from the ones that are "locked" and can't be deleted for various reasons), namely Evernote, as it's sort of been my best (non-human) friend on my current writing project. One casualty of this venture has been Twitpic, which is only in a non-working state because it doesn't seem to recognize my account information. I mean, I know I'm entering the right password, but it's not recognizing it. Granted, I'm probably putting in the wrong password regardless of my confidence to the contrary, but I've really just given up on it. Twitpic used to be a place where I posted sketches and work-in-progress photos of art projects I would later post to DeviantART. It was kind of a "behind-the-scenes/coming attractions" sort of exercise, showing a glimpse into my admittedly unremarkable process. I haven't used it much of late as I've been writing, but even when I have made a few drawings or notes, I don't really miss posting the images.
Who knows, maybe I'll join the rest of civilization and just start using Instagram?

Doubtful, but I do have a short essay in mind about Instagram, and the often ludicrous level of popularity surrounding it. In a way, it's kind of like how I felt about Twitter: in theory, it's genius, a kind of "bad by design" camera in line with Lomography or other classic experimental photo techniques. In reality, it's earned a rather unfavorable nickname, something like "Hipster's Polaroid." There's a tweet I found once that's a reply to Nikon regarding their Android camera that came out some months back. If I can find it, I'll write the essay then.

In the meantime, short summation of events:
Phone is wonky.
Writing project is going very well, for better or for worse.
Twitpic has packed up.
Evernote is my best friend.
I'm considering getting an eBook reader, but I'm debating about a color scheme, and the only place I can post a poll about it is on DeviantART, which would mean bumping down a poll that's relevant to my current project.
Current random object of fascination: Book straps.