Sunday, March 17, 2019

Day 1 to Minimalism

I’ve mentioned on the blog and newsletter of “cutting down”. I’ve mentioned it a lot, because I’ve enjoyed it and made money at it. We’re nearly an entire year into this change, and I found the term that describes it. Minimalism.

Trust me, I never thought it was minimalism. When I think of minimalists, I think tiny houses, all belongings that fit in one bag, and very sparse rooms. And yes, the extremes do look like those things, but for most people, it looks very different.

When I started selling things on eBay, it was because I needed money. Choosing what to sell was easy. Some old games I never touched anymore held their value, so I sold them for what I paid for them. A great deal. As I did that more and more, I realized there were a lot of things I no longer touch that held their value.

So with a job that was giving me less, I was able to essentially clean my room and make up the difference.

Since then I slimmed down more. Movies, books, fitness bands, all kinds of things have left the house. I kept track of all the states my things have gone, and as of right now, my things are in forty of the fifty states.

Recently I’ve given up on laptops and working exclusively on tablets. An iPad for work, an entry-level Android tablet for home. Minimalism in my life was becoming a thing, and I hadn’t even realized it.

I’m going to post a new series on the blog about the journey to a more minimalist life. As a speculative fiction author, I have my work life down to the essentials. I’ll share the photos and memories of the things I’m giving away and selling. I’ll also post the things that I’m adding that are really adding value to my life.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What's a Computer?

Remember that Apple commercial? I do. (And it's think it's pretty great.)

I've always been someone who's enjoyed computers. Being on computers, playing on computers, playing inside computers. Whether it's Linux (Ubuntu and Linux Mints being favorites), Mac OS, or Windows, computers have been there to create, work, and share.

So let me get to my story. I built a desktop PC for gaming and productivity about two and a half years ago.It's got a 4K monitor, mechanical keyboard, the works. Whenever I left the house, I used a Surface 3 with the keyboard cover. The desktop was for work, play, and final edits of books. The Surface was the daily workhorse for all tasks. Recently, the Surface 3 has been having issues due to the wear and tear over the years.

I wrote ten books on my Surface. It was used everyday. Eventually, it was on its way out the door.

Here is where our story begins.

During a gaming session, my graphics card died. That’s the short version. The long version is several hours worth of tests revealed that only my graphics card died, as many other things could have resulted from this experience (fried motherboard perhaps?). So I had to find a new card, order it, get it, and you would think that’s the end of the story. But no. Then the new graphics card had problems with accepting an updated driver.

About four hours later, after trying many different workarounds found online, a single Reddit comment turned out to be the correct path to fixing my graphics card. Finally. What should have been easy, turned out to be not-so-much.

After that experience, and a few others that had been building up over the months, I was done with computers (mostly). I was done with the non-glamorous techy part of computers. I wanted something that worked, something that was easy to maintain, and something that I could carry arond. I started to look at tablets.

I was afraid of switching to non-computer, basically anything not Windows, Mac or Linux. This would include iOS, like an iPad, an Android tablet, and even Chromebooks. These feature sets are so limited compared to a business OS (Windows) or a creative production OS (Mac).

Switching kind of signaled that the work I do is not demanding. Almost as if it wasn't "real" work. So I looked at what I did, and realized that I was right; my work isn't that demanding on a computer. I wrote, edited, and published ten books on a Surface 3 with 2 gigs of RAM. Everything else I do is online, like this blog and email. If I need to do video and edit it, I have a desktop PC that has the power to do all those things easily and quickly. So why did I need a laptop again?

Going through all the steps to fix issues or factory reset Windows made me want the simplicity of an iPhone or an Android. So that's what I did. I picked up an iPad and an Android tablet to test out.

My two tablets I used are the base model iPad with a keyboard case, and the Barnes & Noble Nook 10.1 with a keyboard case as well.

The iPad is simple to explain. Tons of apps, great third-party peripheral market, the gold standard of tablets (battery life, performance, usability). This would be my work machine, like the Surface 3 before it. Side Note: Microsoft's Surface tablets are great, but to get a desirable "acceptable" performance the cost goes way up. At the time of purchase, base iPads were basically at their Black Friday discounts.

The Nook 10.1 was an interesting choice. I wanted a Chromebook, but a nice Chromebooks can run a high sticker price to get good specs. And at that point, the Android emulation is still pretty spotty. While the Nook 10.1 is an underpowered Android tablet, it can do the majority of what a $400-$500 Chromebook can do, at less than half the cost. So my Nook 10.1 became a quasi-Chromebook.

The experience was liberating. The form factors on both these machines are small and relatively light. Both the iPad and Nook 10.1 give great battery life, with a bonus on charging from a battery pack instead of tied to a wall unit. There are some concessions, obviously. No mouse because of the touch screen. They have power, but not enough power to do more demanding tasks. Programs may or may not be made for them as opposed to Windows or Mac.

Still, I was just so easy to start of both of them.

Let's talk about how great cloud storage really is. Both tablets have Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive installed on them. I completely reorganized how those folders work so I can efficiently work in documents when needed. The always-online life works. No more emailing documents or making sure I was downloading/uploading the correct files.

Out of the two, the Nook 10.1 relies on the cloud the most, specifically Google Drive, with a little bit of OneDrive. Because of the low specs of the device, working off an Internet connection is really the best place for it. Considering a lot of Chromebooks run off a Rock chip, the MediaTek in the Nook runs just fine.

The iPad lives up to the hype. Some brands cost more because people pay extra for the label on the device. In the iPad's case, it really is worth the cost. The keyboard case I bought could be better with some key placements, but all in all, I feel just as capable as when I had a Surface. I'm also tied to Scrivener for my work flow, and Scrivener on iOS is amazing and much better than the Mac version. Night and day difference.

The Nook has ended up as the media machine, or a better description is that it is the tablet I actually use when I get back home. At night, work (usually) stops. I like to enjoy time with friends and family, I like to watch a movie every once in a while, so I'm cutting back on being a workaholic (somewhat). I love the fact that when I do a little bit of traveling, the Nook is capable of being my laptop for a few days. The truth is, when I travel I want to be traveling, not working. A blog post here and there, jump into a Google Doc for an hour.

Where I was afraid of tablets before, they have completely exceeded my expectations. There's less inspecting, less downsides, and they work when needed. Both Apple and Google have such robust stores that whatever application someone needs, they can have. I would recommend anyone to look at what they do, and see if a tablet with a keyboard case can do everything they need.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Review: Goldeneye 007 Reloaded

I like James Bond, sometimes. I get into moods where 007 movies scratch a particular kind of itch. I even like Quantum of Solace, and that's saying something, because the film didn't even have a finished script due to SAG strike.

Is there a sadder story than Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond? We start with the absolutely great Casino Royale, we got the very good Skyfall, but then we last ended on Spectre? Daniel Craig deserved better. But did you know he was basically in Goldeneye as well?

The classic N64 Goldeneye was remade by Activision and Eurocom for the Wii, and later for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It stars Daniel Craig in an updated, video game form of Goldeneye.

Think the original Goldeneye, give 007 some regenerating health, Call of Duty set piece, and a modern aesthetic, and you have this game in a nutshell. It's easy to be cynical about the tunnel-like gameplay. Maybe too easy... But the game really tries to vary up the locations, the weapons, and the objectives. And it's all done in this slick modern style.

What didn't age well were the quick time events, which look janky and stilted most times.

Quite possible the greatest "feature" of this game is the aim assist. Video games on consoles use aim assist because controllers are difficult to use accurately. So the player takes the camera 90% in the direction of a target, and the aim assist snaps the remaining 10%. Easy, right?

Outside of Syndicate from EA, this is one of the most aggressive forms of aim assist I've ever seen. Simply aim in the general direction of an enemy, whether close or far, and 007 will immediately lock on to them. Gunfights turn to hide behind cover, immediately aim down sights, fire a few shots, let go, rinse, repeat. It's great!

Now I need to preface this next part. I played on 007 mode, which is basically hard mode, but not the hardest mode. That is reserved for 007 Classic, which doesn't use regenerating health. Let this be known.

For the vast majority of the game, I enjoyed it. Levels were fun, varied, explosive. It was very Call of Duty-fied, but it was a good romp. The last two hours we're not. I'm not sure if these sections were even properly play tested, because they were so broken and annoying I couldn't understand how someone gave this the okay.

The majority of this frustration was with the load times. I've never complained about load times, not even since the PlayStation 1. Load times have never bothered me. But here it is indefensible. Here's the essence of the many encounters. Clear a checkpoint, next wave of enemies appear, and generally instant death. Takes about 10 seconds. Now a 35 second load time appears. Restart. Try and figure out how to handle this wave of enemies. Takes about 10 seconds, then death. Now 35 second load time appears.

Levels can be finished in 15 minute chunks, so spending 5 minutes on a 30 second section makes someone want to bash their head against a wall. This is about the last two hours of the game. Now imagine a cover shooter the gives 007 no working cover, hordes of enemies from literally every angle, and a time limit. That's the last level of the game.

To get to the final boss, I somehow glitched through a door an enemy was running out of. This building was the correct one to enter, but generally there is an invisible wall to stop this entrance from being accessible. Except when that enemy has to run through. That's the only way I managed to beat the game, because there were so many enemies on the other side of the building that going there was certain death.

Goldeneye 007: Reloaded is kind of enjoyable. Seeing Daniel Craig in Pierce Brosnan's place is worth the novelty alone. I don't know if the game is worth remembering, but its heart was in the right place. Except those two hours. I'm glad I've gotten rid of it because of that.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Review: Nook Glowlight 3

The Glowlight 3 returns to the old style of previous Nooks. We're talking large bezels, tactile buttons to flip pages, and the always fashionable black color with a soft coating. Now, I was one of the few who actually liked the look of the Glowlight Plus. I thought it was bold and eye-catching, but I can see where people are coming from. The Glowlight 3 is super comfortable to hold.

The buttons are going to be what brings a lot of interest from readers again. There is something satisfying by that tactile click of the buttons, which are located on both sides of the device for both right- and left-handed users. The touchscreen is also present, in case you like swiping to turn the page. I did find that I gravitated to clicking for the next page rather than touch. It helps that the click is satisfying, not just for the page turn buttons, but the Home button and the On/Off switch. Honestly, it feels more like a fidget cube than anything else.

Let's talk size. The dimensions of the Glowlight 3 are similar to the Plus. They have the same width, but the Glowlight 3 is thicker and taller, which means your old carrying cases and covers won't fit, even though it looks like it should. Even though the new Nook is bigger, it never feels uncomfortable to hold. The soft texture of the device helps conceal the fact that I'm holding a machine rather than a book.

Somehow with all this, the Glowlight 3 is lighter than the Plus. This is probably due to not being water-proofed. I can read for longer without the uncomfortable switching of hands or changing grip positions. I've used it as one-handed reading in my dominant and non-dominant hands. The button placement means on both sides of the device.

While the buttons may be a big return for old time ereader fans, the biggest selling point is the blue light filter.

Anyone who's ever used Flux on a computer knows how straining harsh blue light is to look at. In fact, it's one of the critcims of ereaders. Outside of Kobo, no one else is doing blue light filters for e-ink, and certainly not at $120. At night, I can read for more comfortably with the orange hue, and if you want, the Glowlight will auto adjust your screen throughout the day so the user doesn't have to manually change it. It's easily the best feature that helps Nook stand out from the crowd. 2018's Kindle refresh will no doubt include this feature, but until then, the Glowlight 3 is the most affordable option for this feature.

One of the biggest news for Nook readers is that an update from Barnes & Noble is removing storage partitioning. This was a long time coming, and something everyone should be excited about. This means the user has full access to all 8GB of storage for Nook books and sideloaded content. That means you can buy DRM ebooks from places like Smashwords, or rip DRM from Kindle and Kobo, and fill up your Glowlight 3. Previously, the Glowlight 3 only had a gigabyte for sideloaded content, and the Glowlight Plus had half that. It seems Barnes & Noble listened to their users and implemented a common sense feature. Good job.

Storage isn't the only thing upgraded either. This Nook has better screen response time. When adjusting highlits or maneuvering through the menus, there seems to be a more responsive input than compared to the last Nook. It may be due to the almost non-existent screen stuttering e-ink tends to produce. What I think the smoothness ultimately comes from is the lack of bugs I've experienced. The hardware seems to match the software, instead of the hardware being under-powered compared to what the software demands from it.

All in all, my final verdict on the Glowlight 3 is a glowing one. This is the best ereader hardware a reader can buy for the price range. Tactile buttons, full use of storage space, a light and comfortable design, and a blue light filter all help with decision. If you're looking for a new ereader to use for the next several years, go to your nearest Barnes & Noble and try one out.

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