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Achievement Unlocked: 5K Run

I’ve never been a runner. I was that kid who hated running in school. Loathed it. I stole all the usual clichés, like, “I’m only going to run if something’s chasing me.” Of course, we never stop to realize if we’re not good at running, we’re not going to do very well when our lives depend on

Dreaming in the Digital Age

The Wife and I took the Rugrats to the Peoria Riverfront Museum yesterday, and we checked out their Dome Planetarium for the first time. They’ve got a great setup, and one of their features was the short film Back to the Moon for Good, featuring the Google Lunar XPrize. When people ask why our students need to

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing

It Ain’t a Blockage

It’s not uncommon for people to ask me what took so long between the publication of The Pack: Winter Kill and The Pack: Lie with the Dead. Then they’ll realize how much time passed between The Pack series and Deadliest of the Species and really get to wondering what the hell my problem is. Non-writers often make the same

Another Year Done

School year, that is. The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year. One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s

Achievement Unlocked: 5K Run

I’ve never been a runner.

I was that kid who hated running in school. Loathed it. I stole all the usual clichés, like, “I’m only going to run if something’s chasing me.”

Of course, we never stop to realize if we’re not good at running, we’re not going to do very well when our lives depend on it.

I digress. Point is, I hated running.

Past tense. When it sunk in that improving my cardiovascular endurance would not only be good for my health but would improve my karate performance, I decided I’d best hit the track.

I’ve been running on and off since (except in Winter, because screw that noise), and I’d get in a 5K (3.11 miles) every session, alternating walking and running. I completed two Warrior Dash events that way in 2012 and 2014, though before long I could hit a mile consistently.

Earlier this year, I was able to hit two miles straight. That felt good. I couldn’t even do a mile as a teenager.

Then, Monday night, for the first time ever, I was able to run the full length of a 5K.

Runkeeper tracking

Runkeeper tracking

I’m pretty damned happy with that. The pace is nothing to get excited over, but speed will come with time. Meanwhile, I’m in better shape now than when I got married.

Metal. \m/

 

Dreaming in the Digital Age

The Wife and I took the Rugrats to the Peoria Riverfront Museum yesterday, and we checked out their Dome Planetarium for the first time. They’ve got a great setup, and one of their features was the short film Back to the Moon for Good, featuring the Google Lunar XPrize.

When people ask why our students need to be studying in the STEM fields, this is just a part of what it’s all about. We need to have goals again, to have big dreams to follow. To reach for the stars and beyond. To solve human problems like cancer, or a loss of drinkable water.

If we told the NASA engineers who sent us to the Moon in the ’60s and ’70s what the space program would look like today, they’d be beyond disappointed. People can blame the government, and politics, and money, but it really comes down to the people themselves. The people who ask, “Yeah, but what has the space program done for us?”

If they were to be honest, they would ask, “What has the space program done for me?

I have two responses. First, here’s a list. Second, get your head out of your ass.

The school district I work for held a parent meeting for our technology program, and inevitably the anti-technology set had to put their two cents in. One complained we were only making our kids dependent upon technology, implying technology makes kids dumb and lazy. Another was from the “back in my day” camp, proudly proclaiming he wouldn’t touch a computer if we bought it for him.

Both speak from a position of ignorance. They honestly have no idea what technology has done and can do for them and their children, so they breed contempt and complacency rather than inspiring dreams.

Saying “I’m not good with technology” in 2015 is the same as saying “I don’t know how to read” in 1915. If you think it’s funny that you can’t operate the smartphone in your hand, then congratulations, the world has officially left you behind.

If you have trouble with technology and you just don’t get it, I’m sure you’ll get by. But don’t let your headaches get in your kid’s way. Let your kids start dreaming again, and aspire for bigger and better things, because the rest of us have no desire to return to Bronze Age savagery.

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing I got done in that time is for the papers I had to write for the test.

But hey, the test’s done. Hurdle cleared. While the school year has kicked off at the day job, things are going a lot smoother than they did last year. Between the two, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted.

San Cho Sai

Shedding some of the extra body weight has been nice, too.

Now it’s back to productivity. Not having the time to sit down and hammer on the keys has been driving me crazy, and has only served to compound other stresses. The harder, smarter decision was to wait, though, because the writing would have suffered, too.

That’s not to say I wasn’t working on anything. I’ve been chatting about ideas with artists, there’s a pitch out there, and I’m going to have to pick a prose project to concentrate on by this weekend. I also plan to get a few short stories to some editors in the coming months.

The next step is to establish a writing routine as solid as my workout routine. I’ve got an idea of what it will look like, and it feels doable. I’ll tweak it over the next few weeks, and with luck, I’ll have something to share with you all soon.

It Ain’t a Blockage

It’s not uncommon for people to ask me what took so long between the publication of The Pack: Winter Kill and The Pack: Lie with the Dead. Then they’ll realize how much time passed between The Pack series and Deadliest of the Species and really get to wondering what the hell my problem is.

Non-writers often make the same assumption: “You must be suffering from writer’s block.”

Writers know better: “Writer’s block is bullshit, Mike. Do the work!”

It is and isn’t that simple.

I tend to be in the writer’s block is bullshit camp. There’s a whole lot of precious and pretentious bullshit artists have to wrestle with aside from writer’s block, but really, the fabled block is nonsense. We’re either creative or we’re not. The real problem is some combination of how the process affects us, what our routines are, and how we feel about the outcomes.

I find most people are either creative or analytical. Everyone has a different degree of each, but I think we all tend to lean firmly to one side or the other. Some of us enjoy creating, others are content to consume (not in the dollars sense, but in the sense of simply enjoying the creations of others). Some of us explore new ideas, others are more comfortable with what already exists.

I’ve always leaned heavily to the creative side. Even in my day job, I tend toward the creative. I’m a lot happier working with teachers and students, or finding ways around technological obstacles (like crashed servers), while a number of my colleagues in the same job would rather fiddle with hardware and sift through buggy code.

When I’m creating, I’m happy. When I lose time to a crashed server, I get real cranky, real quick (just ask my coworkers). When I go for extended periods of time without working on some piece of writing, my fuse gets shorter and my mood darkens (just ask my family).

Once I’ve spent some time at the keyboard, or even with a pencil and a notebook, the whole world changes. Things are sunshine and rainbows until something drags me away again.

Which comes to routine. A wise friend of mine calls it the ritual. Every creative person has their own way of making it work. When we’re fortunate enough that it’s our job, routine may go out the window because we have to produce or we don’t eat. For the rest of us, though, we need a ritual.

Yeah, it sounds pretentious. I kind of thought so at first, too. But bear with me, here.

When creating is not our job, we’re forced to live on the analytical side of our brains. We punch a clock somewhere, grind away for a paycheck, doing what we have to do to eat. We have to not create, whether that means troubleshooting servers, bending wrenches, driving trucks, serving up sides of fries, or picking up garbage.

Don’t misunderstand me, here: there’s nothing inherently wrong with these jobs. I know a guy who honestly loves his job riding on a garbage truck. I know a father and son who are perfectly content and extremely competent as auto mechanics. But for those of us who lean toward the creative side of things, it’s tough.

Want to know true misery? Talk to someone who learned programming because he wanted to create games or apps and wound up coding accounting and insurance software instead. They’re working within their dream, even within the degree that cost them a small fortune, yet they’re flat out miserable and don’t even know why.

I digress. The point is the ritual brings us home. We flip the switch from that tiny analytical portion of our brains—our souls or spirits, if you prefer—to the broader creative side. While our colleagues have various ways of decompressing so they can relax, we have to decompress so we can start working on the other side.

I think I deny myself this ritual far too often. When I sit down on a night like tonight, and I light up a cigar and sit out on the porch with the laptop, people assume it’s the cigar that’s doing the work. They think I’m being pretentious again, that I want to have the smoke and fulfill some image of what a writer looks like.

Nope. It’s because I know I’m not going anywhere for a good hour or so, and I can get some goddamn work done.

But I have a day job. I have a clock to punch. Two, actually: I have officially been getting paid to teach martial arts part time since January. I’ve got to get to bed by a certain time because I’ve got to get up at a certain time. We can nitpick the making time versus having time thing and balance it with family, friends, and so forth, but in general the late nights are my best creative time and I often have to deny myself that time for the day job.

I have to suppress the creative and deny the ritual to satisfy the analytical, which is the biggest reason you haven’t seen a short story in a while, and you haven’t seen The Pack: All They Fear or any number of other projects yet.

Last summer was an usual summer at the day job, and I didn’t have as many of those nights available. And boy was I an asshole as a result. This summer is looking to be more relaxing again, so maybe I’ll have more nights like tonight to massage the creative side. We’ll see.

Which brings us to outcomes. Some of us creatives, we spend too much time thinking about analytical things: sales figures; Amazon ranks; reviews and reader feedback; goddamn Twitter follower counts; blog stats; the money our work does or doesn’t bring in. It goes on and on, and it needs to stop.

I need to stop.

Tonight I banged out a blog post for the day job. A creative one. As I near the end of this post, and I exorcise this little demon, I find myself firmly in the creative zone. I feel comfortable, content. My cigar’s almost done and I’ll go back inside, but I feel content. I feel good, even.

And what better outcome can there be than that? I’ll bang on another short piece for a bit. You’ll probably be able to read it before too long, but hey, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s not the outcome I need to be searching for. I just need to satisfy my creative side.

So no, it’s not a block, folks. It’s a matter of working on my creative side.

I’m getting there.

Another Year Done

School year, that is.

The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year.

One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s retired as of tomorrow. As a parting gift, he handed me a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.

Now THIS is a gift!

Score. Thanks again, Steve! I owe you a good lunch this Summer, both for this and for all the assists.

Now I’m kicking back on a Whiskey Wednesday with a bourbon and a smoke, reflecting on good times, and getting ready to pound on a short crime piece.

Gotta kick Summer off right.

Blank Screens & Broken Souls

I’ve been feeling lost this year.

It’s tough to put my finger on why, and I’m not even sure I realized it until I went to St Louis on a writing-related trip a couple weeks back.

Let’s back up a little. We all know not having time to write is bullshit, right? Time is made, controlled, managed. It’s not possessed. Time moves in one goddamn direction at one speed, period. We choose how we spend those minutes.

I know I have to make time to write. A writer writes, do the work, art harder, or whatever your favorite motivational platitude, they all apply. A writer’s work has to get done, period.

And here I am staring at another blank fucking screen.

I worried that I’m not enjoying this anymore. I worried that I should save myself the heartache of rejection and flat sales and keep doing the other things that are going well, like working out at the dojo and building up the classes I teach. I asked myself that toughest of questions all writers need to face at some time or another:

Do I want to be a writer, or do I want to have written?

Most of my writing and brainstorming sessions look something like this:

Bourbon & smokes

It ain’t just for show. I enjoy those times brainstorming and working through problems, as infrequent as they have been the last several months. I feel at peace.

I feel like it’s just me and the notebook or keyboard, and I can finally get some work done.

Feel like. The reality is… different.

Instead I’m sweating other things. I sweat what I should be doing instead of what I want to be doing. I sweat things outside of my control. Things I don’t want anything to do with, but I take on.

And that St Louis trip made that apparent.

Three of us got together to talk writing and comics and the businesses of both. At one point we started batting pitches around the table. One of the guys had a long list of things he was sitting on, things he didn’t have time to work on yet. Things he thought were silly and he backburnered, but kept handy just in case.

I had three notebooks in my pocket and started flipping through them, looking for ideas. I sat there quietly, going page by page, as the other two guys chatted enthusiastically. They suddenly asked me why I looked so angry.

Because it hit me: I’ve fucked up.

Sure, I had several pages devoted to The Pack and the plot to one pitch I’d put together a while back and another based on “All Things Through Me” from the In the Dark anthology, but for the most part, the pages were full of other things.

I burned a lot of pages taking notes in karate class, and that’s cool. But the rest? All bullshit.

Solving problems at the day job, for example. Noodling an alternative to the day job. Lists of things I needed to do at home, or at work. Even a list of things I should talk about here, on the blog, because I’ve fallen waaaay out of the habit of posting.

Three notebooks and nothing new. Nothing fresh. Nothing exciting.

Fuck.

It changed after that moment, though. I jumped back into the conversation, told them about another idea in the back of my head. Something I hadn’t found made the time to sit down and work on.

They loved it. I spent the next week working on it, and as I type this it’s sitting on an editor’s desk, waiting on a decision. The three of us collaborated on another idea, and on the way home, one of those guys and I put together yet another concept that we dig.

I need more weekends like that, because I’m tired of sweating shit like this:

The bane of all techs

This picture sums up everything that I find soul-sucking and frustrating about my day job. I attempted to make one small driver upgrade, and the whole thing came crashing down.  I’ve spent three days off and on, including an hour of a Sunday afternoon, trying to fix it. No success.

Before St Louis, I’d have moved a cot into my office and refused to leave before I gave up on it. Now? Hell, it’s tough to care. I told everyone why this server was a bad idea, and what our alternatives were. I got overruled and now it’s biting us in the ass. I’ve got a workaround and we’ll get through it, but I’m just not going to lose any sleep over it.

Nor will I lose any more productive time to those who have no respect for it.

Now I find myself in a strange, bittersweet position. I’ve been sitting in a cafe, killing time before heading to the dojo for test prep with some fellow karateka. There’s a blank slate in front of me.

On the plus side? That blank slate means I can work on anything. The possibilities are endless. Horror? Crime? Long fiction or short? Prose or comics? It’s exciting, and almost overwhelming.

The down side is I have no commitments. That same blank slate is my career. Tabula rasa. Square one. The ground floor. It’s intimidating, and a little disheartening.

But yes, I still dig it. My fingers itch, and that server can go to hell.

Time to do some damage.

On Paper & Pen

My day gig is very much rooted in technology.

Every day, I’m telling teachers why they should be using Chromebooks and smartphones in their classrooms, teaching students to make the most of their Google Apps for Education accounts, extolling the virtues of Evernote and digital textbooks in class, and finding strategies to reduce our school district’s paper and toner consumption.

It surprises my coworkers, then, when they discover I carry a paper notebook and a pencil in my pocket at all times. To some it’s almost betrayal, as if everything I’ve told them is a lie.

Technology has its place, of course, and the majority of my workflow is definitely digital. Evernote is a huge part of my productivity, both in writing and at work, and when I’m writing I’m usually strapped in to Google Docs or Apple’s Pages. Early notes and brainstorming, however, is usually done in a notebook.

Pencil and paper still flows better for me. As fast as I can type, I’m faster with a pencil. I feel more connected to the words, as pretentious as that sounds, and the ideas just keep on coming.

A small notebook is far more convenient on the go, too. It’s not uncommon for me to throw some text or photos into a note in Evernote via my smartphone, but again, for brainstorming, it’s just so much faster to use a pencil.

Yes, pencil. Mechanical, .5mm. Right now my favorite is a Papermate something-or-other (the name has rubbed off), as seen in the photo below.

I’ve long felt pens are too messy. When I was a kid I exploded a few pens while fiddling with them because I can’t sit still, which probably soured me on the whole thing. I like being able to erase my mistakes, too. Despite having hurried and jagged handwriting which even I sometimes have a hard time deciphering, I have this weird insistence on the words being right.

So I dig pencils, and I dig good notebooks. I’ve talked about Moleskines several times, and after my experience with the Field Notes Pitch Black, I decided to try the Field Notes Expedition Edition, also in the photo above. It is definitely more durable than the Pitch Black, but pencil transfers across to opposite pages.

I’ve got three Expeditions now, so I wonder, should I find a pen that transfers its ink properly to the Expedition’s pages? By coincidence today, I read A Primer on Fountain Pens at The Art of Manliness. Surely, I thought, there’s a fountain pen ink that will do the job?

This is the part where I shock my writing brethren, especially those who are notebook and pen geeks:

I’ve never used a fountain pen.

I seem to remember fiddling with one, and scratching up some paper, but never a good pen and never at length. Typewriters? Sure, I dig typewriters. Love the feel and the noise, though I don’t own one. But fountain pens just never clicked. I never felt a need for a pretty pen when my handwriting sucks, and again, there’s the issue of the mess.

I know John Urbancik uses several, as do a number of writers I’ve talked to. I’ve heard artists talk at length about the various pens and inks they use in their work. Writers and artists alike talk about quality ink and flowing lines and the feel of a good pen in hand.

Hey, I get it. I’m down. But I do like my pencil scratchings, so I’m torn. Do I find a good pen, or do I abandon the Expeditions? I don’t know that I’m ready to get all spendy on fountain pens and screw with ink refills, but if anyone can recommend a good, durable pen with ink that won’t smear all over the place, I’d be willing to give it a shot at my notebook.

Why Aren’t You Listening to The Horror Show?

When Brian launched his new podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, I of course knew I’d be tuning in. Not only is he a friend and a hell of a writer, but he’s a former radio host and he’s a great reader and emcee at cons. It’s only natural that he’d find himself in front of a mic again at some point.

Let’s get a disclaimer out of the way: I’ve known Brian for 17 years. He’s one of my best friends on the planet. My biggest fear was I’d listen to an episode or two and be bored, and have to tell Brian that maybe he should reconsider his Internet radio revival.

Fortunately that hasn’t been a problem. Brian’s in good hands with Dave Thomas co-hosting and assisting on production, and they gel well in the first few episodes. The show moves along at a good pace, and they manage to avoid the awkward pauses and rambling asides that plague most rookie podcast efforts.

Brian’s also been flying solo for a few episodes, discussing the personal situations that led to writing novels like The Rising and Ghoul. His openness and honesty with fans in these episodes surprises even me, and I can see why so many people have been tuning in.

Of course Brian takes a few minutes to pick a few fights, but hey, it wouldn’t be a Brian Keene joint without poking a few trolls. That’s been part of B’s charm all along, and at times it’s stunning to see his fans step in line to march behind him. Fortunately for us, he’s one of the good guys.

My biggest reason for tuning in, however, is the way the show makes me feel. It’s made me realize how much I miss hanging out with creative people. I haven’t been to a con in ages, and The Horror Show very much feels like our conversations after hours in the bar. I find it energizes me, too. It fills me with the urge to write. Making keyboard time is tough for me these days, and the show often makes me regret the way I’ve filled up my schedule with other things. It’s something I’m working to change, but clearly I’m not working at it fast enough.

If you’re a fan of Brian’s or of horror in general and you haven’t checked out The Horror Show yet, grab yourself a podcatcher (I like Pocket Casts) and make with the clicky. If you’re a writer or someone who digs hearing about the business and process of writing, then you’ll want to tune in, too.

B, if you’re reading, good job, brother. I’m all caught up and ready for the next episode.

Field Notes Field Test

I’ve been working in a Field Notes notebook for a few months now, and while it’s been a solid & dependable notebook, I’m not quite sure it fits my needs.

This notebook has been taking a beating

This notebook has been taking a beating

I decided to start with the Pitch Black edition, a basic black notebook with Field Notes dot-grid pages. Field Notes has a reputation for making durable notebooks, which is an important feature for me. See, my notebooks live in my back pocket, and let’s face it: I’m not a small man. Any notebook I carry is going to take a beating. It comes out of the pocket at home and various destinations, but I’m often sitting on it in the car or on the motorcycle.

I’ve just about filled the first of my set of three Pitch Blacks, and so far it’s held together well. The cover has a few permanent wrinkles, it’s fraying around the staples, and the cover below the bottom staple is splitting along the spine. However, it’s still holding all of the pages just fine. The notebook stays bent out of my pocket, but I just flip it around when I return it to my pocket and it smooths out in the other direction. The pages themselves are holding up great. The first several pages inside each cover are wrinkled, but all of my pencil scratchings are perfectly legible. (As legible as my handwriting allows, anyway.)

I was concerned about the dot-grid pages at first, but I’ve come to dig it. For those unfamiliar, imagine a graph paper layout, then remove all the lines and leave a dot where the intersections were. It has the feel of a blank page, but the dots still create subtle lines for guidance. I find I can write as large as I want without feeling like a frustrated kindergartner who can’t color within the lines, yet I still have some solid guidance for longer passages and lists. It hasn’t changed my world, but I certainly won’t avoid dot-grid in the future.

As much as I like the Field Notes, however, its glaring weakness is in my own usage: I need something sturdier. These notebooks are great for working at a desk, on a table, or on a bent knee, but they don’t have the backbone for hand-held work. That’s a big problem for me in the dojo, where I’ll have to record something quickly while standing at the edge of the mat or between instruction and practice. I can get a little more oomph out of it by wrapping one side of the notebook behind the other, but it’s still just not quite steady enough for my meaty paws.

The plus side of the dojo work is the pages hold up to sweat. Whether the sweat is on my fingers or dripping off my face, the writing doesn’t smudge on the page. That wasn’t always the case with my last Moleskine, which drank the sweat right up.

While I like the Field Notes overall and would recommend them to most people for general use, I will most likely finish out the last two from this set and then try something a little more solid. If anyone has recommendations, please do drop them in the comments below.

This Was Nice to Wake Up To

One can hardly ask for a better review than that.

It surprises me, not because of the sentiment but because I’ve been so quiet on social media lately. I’ve been busy as hell with things other than writing, and I’d hate to turn my accounts into endless sources of spam shilling the same projects over and over.

So, when new people discover my stuff, and they take a moment to ping me, it makes my day.

\m/

2015: Second Verse, Same as the First

So, 2015.

I’d say it looks about the same as 2014 so far. There’s no border here for me, no difference in the days other than having to remember to change that last digit to a 5 when I’m writing or typing dates.

I don’t need to look at last year’s goals to know I screwed up, either. In fact, I didn’t even make any last year. My routine has seen a lot of turmoil over the past year, and I’ve only just managed to get things under some semblance of control. Stepping out for several days with the family has really helped to unload a lot of mental baggage; crossing an arbitrary date border is purely coincidental.

My weight lifting routine has been going well, and my dojo attendance has been solid (and is what helped maintain my sanity. Most everything else has suffered.

No more.

I see some light at the end of the tunnel as I type this, and the next few months are full of opportunity and possibility. I’ll be taking full advantage and setting up more of the same for the summer and the remainder of the year. I hope to be able to talk about some of it soon, as one contract has been signed and another project is waiting in the production pipeline.

As order returns, so too shall routine. Including keyboard time.

So, 2015. Let’s do this.

The Chromebook for Road Warrior Writing

Samsung Chromebook

The Samsung Chromebook

We’ve invested heavily in the Chromebook at my day job, and it’s given me an opportunity to evaluate several models and use them on a day-to-day basis. After using one for several months now, I’ve found they offer a lot of options for those of us looking for a simple, portable, and affordable setup for writing.

First up, consider the price: with some Chromebooks available as low as $170 these days, they’re about a third of the cost of an iPad and a decent keyboard or cover. For that price, a writer could lose or break one without too much heartbreak. Take a thousand-dollar MacBook Air to Starbucks, meanwhile, and one hesitates to leave it sitting on the table during a bathroom visit.

The ChromeOS is also simple to operate and very snappy. Power up a Chromebook and you’re ready to work in seconds, and battery life ranges from a few hours to 12-14 hours for some models. There are shortcuts to all of the major Google Apps, and you’ve got access to the Chrome Web Store and, soon, the Play Store for Android apps. Chrome browser users will also find their browser settings like bookmarks, history, and extensions automatically synced to the Chromebook.

That said, don’t go expecting to install Word, PhotoShop, the latest games (for your kids, right?), or other software. ChromeOS is a bare-bones operating system with enough juice to get you online. You’ll have a webcam, some USB ports, and sometimes an SD card slot, but this is no full-on desktop replacement. 95% of the apps run through the Chrome browser and are Internet apps; the rest are simple apps like the file manager, the camera app, or the calculator.

Chromebook with video

Of course, entertainment’s not completely out of the question

Most of your data will live in Google Drive. Chromebooks have small hard drives for local downloads and for offline file storage, but if you don’t buy into the Google ecosystem, your options are limited. The benefit to Google Drive is you have instant file sync and you’re not juggling file versions or sweating backups and lost data. Writing in Google Docs, writers can log in to any computer with a browser, or use Docs apps on most modern mobile devices, and pick up right where they left off on a Chromebook.

No Wi-Fi available? No problem. With offline file sync, a writer can create or edit a file and the changes will be merged to Google Drive the next time there’s a connection. I actually prefer to use my phone as a hotspot than go without a connection, but I’ve been able to work both ways seamlessly.

Brand-wise, there are more to choose from all the time. I’ve been happiest with Acer for the lower-end models. The Samsung units aren’t bad, but the Acer is a little more durable. Asus units are nice, but I’ve had some bad support experiences that have soured me on their brand for now.

For performance purposes, spend a little more for a unit with 4GB of RAM if you expect it to be a workhorse, otherwise the 2GB models are fine for basic surfing and productivity. There are also some variances in processor architecture, but the only one I’ve really been disappointed in is the HP Chromebook 11, which I found very sluggish with multiple browser tabs open.

Chromebook, iPod, Moleskine

Traveling companions.

There are not a lot of downsides when you consider what you’re paying for. You’re not going to have the variety of apps there are for an iPad, or for an Android tablet, but then again, that’s not why you’re buying a Chromebook. The plastic construction is more fragile than the metal iPads and MacBook Air, but is comparable to most plastic PC laptops. I’ve seen Samsung screens break with just a little flexing, but the good news is they’re very easy and inexpensive to replace, especially compared to standard laptop screens.

Again, be prepared to buy into the Google ecosystem. One could work around it by writing in Evernote or another online service, or by juggling plain text files with Dropbox via their website, but it seems to me that would get old fast. If you’re not into Google’s Terms of Service, then you’ll want to invest in an inexpensive notebook. Or maybe you just prefer the friendly confines of the Apple ecosystem? I don’t judge.

If printing is part of your workflow, don’t plan on hooking up a printer. You’ll be printing through Google Cloud Print, which will allow you to print either to another computer’s printer (with a little setup in your Google account) or a Cloud Print-enabled network printer. Or, of course, you could just print the files from Google Drive on another computer and skip Cloud Print altogether.

All in all, I’m very happy with Chromebooks. If I take one to a Starbucks or a similar joint to work, the Chromebook is up and ready to go before they finish making my drink. I’ll typically have four tabs open: Google Docs, for whatever project I’m working on; Slacker Radio, for tuning out the environment; Evernote, for referencing my notes; and Moosti, a Pomodoro timer. Paper notebook on one side, drink on the other, and I’ve got a nice, self-contained environment I can set up anywhere. It’s even perfect out on the front porch with an adult beverage and a cigar.

If an iPad is too spendy, or tablets and keyboards just aren’t going to cut it, one could certainly do a lot worse than a Chromebook. They’re inexpensive, there’s no farting around with maintenance or antivirus, and there’s no sweating backups or file management. Just travel, open it up, and go to work.

Smells like win to me.