Archive for Tech

Fare Thee Well, Fitbit

I’m one of the lucky winners of the Fitbit Force skin rash lottery.

Taken on Sunday, 2/23

I’m far from the only one reporting a problem, and now Fitbit has issued a recall on their Force devices. The company first blamed a nickel allergy, and they’re still using that as their main explanation. However, they’re acknowledging it may also be a glue used to bind the Force device to the wristband. This makes a lot more sense, as this rash feels more like a chemical burn than a rash. I’ve still got the burn/rash today (Monday), yet I haven’t worn the device since Wednesday evening. I notified Fitbit and they immediately issued me a refund and a shipping label to return the device.

Here’s the thing: I liked this device. While in many respects it is a glorified pedometer, and using RunKeeper and GPS on my phone is probably more effective when I get back to running, I liked the addition of a display and the ability to track activity all day. I also liked that it does sleep tracking and has a silent alarm. I had yet to really put it to the test in karate classes, but it seemed to be pretty good at figuring out when I was active versus just moving around on day-to-day tasks.

My personal feeling is their manufacturer used cheap materials. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the worst parts of the burns are beneath the two joins between the underside of the device and the strap. With luck, it will be something they’ll be able to straighten out soon.

Will I purchase another Force if that’s the case? Honestly, I’m not sure. I thought about downgrading to Fitbit’s Flex, but I hate the idea of a single-purpose device. There are also new competitors coming, like Atlas Wearables, who make devices capable of tracking more data (heart rate would be terrific) and which are waterproof (ideal for when I run the Warrior Dash this summer).

My only other concern? Dragging a sword across it in iaijutsu class or snagging it during judo work and partner drills. I can worry about that when a new device is in hand, though.

In the meantime, farewell, Fitbit. It was nice while it lasted.

Update 3/6/14:

It’s been two weeks now, and the photo below is what the wound (I think it’s fair to call it that) looks like now.

They’re turning me into a lizard!

Tasty, huh? It doesn’t itch near as much, and it’s mostly just crusty, dry skin as it heals. It’s cracked in a few spots, though, so I try to keep it clean and I put unscented moisturizer on it.

Fitbit still maintains it’s skin irritation or an allergic reaction. I don’t buy it, but hey, I’m not a doctor.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Get Rolling with Evernote for Writing

After some questions from other writers, I thought I’d expand on my “Why I Love Evernote” post to discuss how I actually use it to help with my writing projects.

The key to remember here is your mileage may vary. There may be things about Evernote I love that don’t work for you, and you may discover things I wasn’t aware of or had no use for. Dive in, play with it, and make it work for you.

Also, keep it simple. “Ubiquitous capture” and the lack of traditional computer metaphors like files and folders can be daunting at first, but once you get a handle on how Evernote handles notebooks, notes, tagging, and searching, things get pretty easy.

So let’s break it down and use my The Pack series and notes as an example.

1) Create a Notebook

It may help at first to think of notebook as folders, but the metaphor here is imagine you just purchased a shiny new paper notebook you’re going to write in and stuff full of pictures, newspaper clippings related to your project. It’s both notebook and scrapbook, in a sense.

An Evernote notebook, then is your first order of sorting. In the future you can share it with an editor or a collaborator, but in the meantime it’s the place you’ll dump everything related to that project. The default notebook is enough for some folks, but I just use that one for day-to-day things. I have a Recipes notebook, a Karate notebook, a notebook for the day job, and one for every major project I’m working on.

Everything from here on will have been created within my “The Pack” notebook. I could feasibly create one for every novel, but it’s a lot handier (to me) to group everything related to the series under one notebook.

2) Create Notes

Click “create note” and you’re off and running. The beauty of notes is they can include several types of content. Text is most common, of course, but I can also drag in photos and other media. Tables, lists, and checklists are available when needed, and with the indents and lists, you can build a traditional outline.

If you’re the type who likes voice notes, Evernote can handle this, too. Dictate into the Evernote app on your phone, for example, and it will be available everywhere you have Evernote installed or via the Evernote web app. Want to make dictated notes searchable, or transcribe to text? Check out Quicktate or Voice2Note. I don’t use these, but as I said, YMMV.

Here are the types of notes I use most often:

Character Dates and Timeline

This note is simply a master list of important dates and a timeline of events. The novels Winter Kill and Lie with the Dead occur about six months apart, but the events in the first Pack short “Bravo Four” take place decades earlier during the Vietnam War. Events from the Call of the Wild comic series have an impact in the prose series. There are references to unpublished (for now) events in each story, and of course there is the ages of characters to consider. To keep it all straight, I’ve got each major character’s birth date, their death date where applicable, and at least approximate dates of when each story took place and when unpublished events occurred.

Character Notes

This is where I get more detailed. Winter Kill has a lot of characters, including the Tyler family, at least two sets of villains, and a handful of supporting characters. There are two ways one might approach it: one note per character, like an old-school index card; or one note per group of characters.

I tend toward the latter because I don’t mind if the notes get a bit lengthy. So, I have a note for all of the core members of the Tyler family. I have a note for all of the skinheads in Winter Kill. I have a note for Angie Wallace, a major character unrelated to the Tylers or the villains. Each character’s physical descriptions, their personality, and so on are all included. It’s simply broken down so the character’s name is in bold, and then the paragraphs or one-liners follow.

These notes help keep details straight. For example, if a character carries a certain weapon, it goes in the note so the weapon doesn’t magically change in another book. If a character receives a wound, I make sure I know where the scar is. I might even paste in descriptive passages from each work to be sure it’s always consistent.

In short, it’s helpful for continuity, and it saves me the time of having to flip through published works to verify details later.

Book Notes or Outlines

I have at least one note for each novel in the series, including Book 3. They’re fairly organic, and change as I massage the plots. They might start with a simple breakdown of Act I, Act II, and Act III, or even just a line or two about what I want to accomplish or an overall theme. Some are just brainstorming, and at least one includes a discarded version of a story which I might pick apart for later use anyway.

Over time, they get more detailed. I might have a beat sheet breaking down the book event by event, or even chapter by chapter. Pretty soon, they’re more or less an outline of the book I can use to write from, and they also become useful to refer back to when working on other projects in the series.

Short Story Notes

I have one note that has the synopsis for each of the short stories I’ll be writing for the series over the next few months. I then flesh them out with a separate note to figure out how the stories will play out.

For example, there’s a “Bravo Four” note I used to write from. It’s an outline, and it’s a reference for the future. If The Pack were a comic series, I might even have an issue-by-issue breakdown, a note for each story arc.

Research Notes

These are most often web clippings, but some may be simply photos or other notes. Because The Pack is a werewolf series, I clipped the article “Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong” in case it might be useful in the future. This way it’s available in searches and browsing rather than lost in a pile of bookmarks or other links. I also have some notes about places and events from the Vietnam War for “Bravo Four”, and I have some other history notes for future short stories.

Publishing/Business Notes

Everything related to publishing gets a note. I have a note with key reviews for Winter Kill. I have a note listing the ISBN numbers and publication dates of each work, and any relevant Amazon or Barnes & Noble links. They’re small things, maybe only needed once in a blue moon, but they’re handy to keep around.

I also have a note for the editing process of Lie with the Dead. I simply dumped the editor’s notes into a note for quick reference. Once, while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I thought of a way to address one of his notes. I fired up Evernote on my phone and jotted those thoughts in with that comment so I could address it later and not sweat forgetting it before I got to a computer.

I also dumped everything from a weekend retreat planning meeting I had with my publisher into a note. Notes we took, things we discussed, and even photos of the whiteboard we used are all still available to me for reference.

Miscellaneous Notes

Everything else, basically. I do all my brainstorming on paper, so I might transfer those notes into a separate note for later noodling. Other times, the brainstorming notes go into existing notes. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, because tagging and searching makes where I record the notes irrelevant.

3) Tying Notes Together

There are two ways to do this: tagging and linking.

You’re probably already familiar with the idea of tagging. They’re a simple way to “group” notes without using folders. Character names are an important tag, for example, as are book titles. This way, if I look for anything tagged “winter kill,” I’ll get everything that may be related to that book.

Linking is also handy, and works just like a hyperlink on a website, and in effect can turn your notebook into a wiki. In a plot note, I might include a link from a character’s name to the note containing their description. Or I can link from a plot or character note to one of the research notes. This keeps me from having to reproduce information, or from bogging down notes with extraneous information.

4) Sorting Searching

This is the point people sweat keeping everything organized. Forget about it, because the search feature makes all of that irrelevant. It’s very powerful, and will search tags, text within notes, and text within attachments (pictures, and even PDFs if you’re a pro user).

You simply don’t need to sort things into folders because the search will find it for you. Accidentally drop a note into the wrong notebook? No problem, you can restrict searches to within a notebook or open it up to your entire account.

Notes are typically listed by the date they were last modified. This way, the thing you’re working on most at the moment is typically at the top of the stack. It can also sort notes by location if that’s what you’re into by tagging notes with GPS information and showing you a map.

Are you the visual type? Take a look at Mohiomap, an app which allows you to surf your notes visually as a mind map based on your tags. This is another feature that’s not for me, but if you’re a big fan of mind mapping, check it out.

Once you get used to searching over sorting, it’s very liberating. You’re not wasting time organizing things, archiving things, or otherwise performing housekeeping on a fat stack of files. Throw your data in a note and forget about it.

The Evernote app also allows you the flexibility of creating shortcuts to your most-used notebooks and notes. One click gets you to a current project rather than having to go through a list of notebooks every time.

5) The Extras

Ubiquitous Access

Wherever I am, whatever device I have with me, if I can get to the Internet I can get to my notes. If I’m going to travel somewhere coverage might be sketchy (a very real possibility for me now that US Cellular has carved up and sold off entire service areas), I can tag certain notebooks as Offline notebooks so I can keep current notes with me at all times.

A Second Screen

I’m not a fan of flipping back and forth between windows, and it’s not always helpful to shrink windows to keep them side by side on a screen. Thus it’s not unusual for me to have a document in progress open on screen, and the notes related to that project open on the iPad or smartphone next to me. It’s a small thing, but I like it.

Reminders and To-Dos

I personally prefer Todoist and Google Calendar for these, but Evernote does have these features built in. You can set a reminder to nag you about a meeting or a deadline. You can create checklists of to-dos in a note, and tie them to reminders. It’s all very flexible, I just find it unwieldy compared to Todoist.

Just Do It!

There’s really no right or wrong way to this, and it’s all very adaptable to your style and personality. Get in there and dig around, start creating notes. If you decide you want to handle notes and notebooks differently, you can drag notes to different notebooks.

It’s all very organic, and all a lot more user-friendly than it appears at first glance. Understanding comes quickly. Learn by doing, and don’t be afraid because you’re not going to lose anything.

If you’re ready to get started, please, use my referral link to set up your Evernote account. I’d appreciate it!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why I Love Evernote (and You Will, Too)

I use a lot of apps, but Evernote has become the single app I’m not sure I could replace. Word processors, task managers, and social media apps are all fairly interchangeable. Operating systems? I have my favorites, but they don’t much matter in the end. Even the device isn’t very important anymore.

Not so for Evernote. Sure, it has competitors offering some of the same features, but it’s so entrenched in my workflow, and I have so much data stashed in its cloudspace, that it would be difficult for me to migrate away from it, even if I wanted to. I have a premium account for the extra features, but I’m also happy to pay up to ensure they’re not going anywhere.

The following video sums up the basic idea and features. Check it out, and then I’ll get on to how Evernote’s been useful for me in so many ways.

Now let’s talk about why you might want to sign up.

I Use It For:

The Day Gig

I juggle a lot of information in the day job, and there’s not a lot that doesn’t find its way into Evernote. Software manuals and instruction booklets can be stored on several services, but Evernote makes them searchable, lets me tag them, and lets me add my own notes. The extensive federal paperwork I have to fill out every year goes into Evernote, along with all of the notes, dates, and filing information that goes with it.

It also makes a great repository for software license codes and activation keys. For a while I’d type in anything I couldn’t cut and paste, but now I just take a picture of the keys. For example, when we purchase interactive whiteboards, there are activation keys on both the board and the CD case. A couple of taps and a photo of every new key is added to the same note as the others.

Separately, I make extensive use of Evernote Skitch to mark up screenshots for passing instructions and tips along to coworkers. With Evernote integration, I have those same notes and annotations to share again later.

Research

This one should be a no-brainer. I record it once, I keep it forever, no matter the subject. If I’m shopping for something, I can snap photos and take notes about pricing and/or features. If it’s a newspaper or magazine article, I can snap a photo and Evernote will make its text searchable.

This is also where the Evernote Web Clipper comes in handy. Web articles, blog posts, Wikipedia entries, and more can be saved and tagged with a couple of clicks. Just yesterday I grabbed an io9 article on powering a starship with an artificial black hole for possible use in a writing project.

Fitness

There are a handful of print fitness magazines I’ll pick up from time to time, but my shelf space is far too limited to keep them around to look up a workout routine once in a blue moon. In those cases I’ll scan and tag the article and slide it into Evernote.

It works the same for digital magazines on the iPad. Whether I’m reading them in the Kindle app or Apple iBooks or Newsstand, a screenshot works as well as a scanner, and Evernote filing is handled on the same device.

Even better, I don’t have to think about them anymore. Magazines go forgotten on shelves, but if I search for “bench press” in Evernote, it’ll turn up a handful of useful articles I’ll have forgotten about.

Recipes

This is how I hooked The Wife. She has a cabinet full of recipe books, magazines, and hand-written cards from her mom or her friends. I do most of the cooking these days, and I can never find the right books. If we go shopping, we would inevitably forget an ingredient or two.

With Evernote, I snap a picture of our favorite recipes. They’re instantly available when I’m cooking, and if we’re at the store and suddenly decide we’re going to make shrimp chowder, I can pull up the recipe right there. I’ve used Web Clipper to collect several new recipes, too.

Now The Wife has an account, and I’ve shared the entire recipe notebook with her. She can browse them on her phone, or she can add to our collection.

Martial Arts

This is where the workflow gets a little strange because I take notes by hand at first. I’d love to use an Evernote Notebook by Moleskine, but my handwriting is way too messy for Evernote to make any sense of it, especially when I’m writing in a hurry in class.

Taking a few minutes to retype them, however, is worth the time. I have research, history, kata breakdowns, judo articles, and more piled up in there, and I often include links to videos I’ve stashed on YouTube for reference. As such, it became an invaluable study guide for my black belt test last March, both for the written test and the board exam.

We also have a class where my instructor has a handout from time to time. We have a binder we keep for these papers, but scans or pictures of these, too, go straight into Evernote. Instead of digging up the binder, I just pick up my phone.

Writing

And now we have the big one. Aside from the writing itself, there’s not much I don’t do in Evernote (though there’s no reason I couldn’t write in a note if I chose to). Let’s just make a list:

  • Character descriptions. Sure beats searching back through a manuscript, and I’ll often paste in passages alongside my own notes.
  • Timelines and continuity. Character histories, plot timelines, back story, all of it.
  • Plot notes. Best way to keep the story straight.
  • Outlines. I’ve been known to use ‘em.
  • Submission tracking. Dates, editor information, all of it.
  • Contracts and contract terms. Of course I keep the paper, too, but sometimes I need to look things up.
  • Production notes. Artwork, thumbnails, layouts, cover mock-ups, and so on.
  • Publication details. Street dates, blurbs, reviews, ISBNs, and links.

I’m also using Evernote to collaborate on a project. We have a small pile of notes and reference material in a shared notebook. We’re gearing up to do the actual writing in Google Docs, but Evernote is better for organizing the rest of the material.

I Don’t Use It For:

As much as I love Evernote, there are some things I prefer other apps for. Most notably, I use an entirely different task manager, as Evernote’s task/todo list is a bit unwieldy for my taste. And I haven’t used its reminder feature much because Google Calendar is faster and easier.

All in All:

Evernote rocks. I love it, and at the day job I encourage the staff and students to check it out. There are more uses for it, and there are more videos and articles about those uses than you can possibly keep up with. Project management, going paperless, research, running a business, the possibilities are endless. There’s even a private investigator using Evernote for case management and field work.

If you think it’ll help you, by all means, sign up for an account.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Murder in the Local Paper

Secor is a small farm town not far from me. With a population under 350, it’s exactly the kind of place where people always say, “nothing ever happens here.”

Until a man was murdered and his body dismembered there just over a week ago.

I first read about it on Peoria’s Journal Star website Thursday morning, and early Thursday afternoon I read about the two people arrested in connection to the crime. A live-in caregiver and her boyfriend allegedly shot a 74-year-old man and tried to dispose of the body. Details are still being withheld, but it appears the killers dismembered the body, leaving a portion at the home and a dumping the rest off a bridge into a river just over the county border. Authorities were waiting on DNA test results to confirm the body parts go together and verify the identity.

Later that afternoon, I got home from work and pulled our local weekly paper out of the mailbox. The murder made the front page, which is not a surprise. However, it was already way out of date. It said a man was missing and a body had been found in the river, but there were no suspects yet.

It’s a perfect example of the challenges faced by print media and the increasing irrelevance of small, local newspapers when it comes to reporting major news. My wife and I subscribe to the local paper because it’s the best way to get coverage of our town, such as village and school board meetings and notices from local groups. However, because of the way the paper tries to protect itself, it’s the only way to get that news and information in a timely manner.

See, this newspaper does have a website. It also has breaking news on the case, but it’s all culled from the paper’s parent, Bloomington’s Pantagraph newspaper. Unfortunately everything else is unavailable for about a week after the local paper is printed and distributed. Some other big stories have been exempted from the rule, but for the most part, delaying the news has been their alternative to putting up a paywall.

It’s sad, really. I understand there’s a business side to running a paper and reporting local news. Reporters need to be paid, and whether we’re talking print or Web, there are costs involved in distribution. We can talk about how information should be free and people deserve the news, but unless we’re willing to cough up more taxes to pay for it, we’re out of luck. (Not to mention we’d then be dealing with government oversight of the media, which is the last thing we’d want. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

I got to thinking, though: what really pays for the newspaper? Ads. This is why just about any given interior page is at least 3/4 advertisements, and at least one or two other pages (in our small paper), often the back page, is a full-page ad. How do you get ad revenue? Guarantee eyeballs. How do you guarantee eyeballs? Subscribers. Sales in stores and out of corner machines probably vary somewhat, but a paper can cough up an exact subscriber number at any given time.

This is the problem news websites face. The web advertisement arms race, where ads get more obnoxious and browser-based ad-blocking software gets more aggressive, is frustrating on both sides. Paywalls, meanwhile, are a huge turnoff because sometimes a reader just wants one story or isn’t local to that paper.

Also, the Journal Star’s paywall is laughably easy to defeat: after a reader has read 15 articles for the month, a pop-up ad asks for a digital subscription. If the reader refuses, he is dumped to the front page. However, I’ve discovered if I hit the browser’s stop button after the page loads but before the pop-up arrives, I can keep reading. If they fix that, I’d bet dumping or blocking cookies or using a proxy would still get me past the paywall.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s these small, local papers that are going to suffer. Our local reporter is nearing retirement, and I can’t imagine it’s going to be easy to replace her. The pay can’t be great, and the beat is far from glamorous. They’re going to need someone who cares about the area, otherwise we’ll get someone out of Bloomington or Peoria covering the area part time and our news will be secondary to whatever city story he or she is working on at the time.

Papers really need to start thinking outside the box, leveraging both emerging technologies and the desire to reach local audiences (and for local businesses to reach their local populace), or they’re going to die. This isn’t news to them, of course, but the locals don’t have time to wait for the bigger outlets to figure it out.

So yes, here I am with a half-assed suggestion: mobile apps and subscriptions. A tablet app local news outlets can push news, ads, obits, classifieds, etc., to. Readers buy the app, subscribe to the content.

On a personal level, the local paper’s website is useless, and it’s not worth paying for the Pantagraph or Journal Star (even if I couldn’t defeat the paywall). Pay what, $2.99 or so for the app (for the developer), then around $1.99 per month for the content (for the paper)? Sure, that’d be worth it to me. I don’t know what our subscription cost is, but I’m sure it’s less than buying the paper for $1.00 per week in stores. I’d just as soon read on the tablet if I can get the same content, including things like the high school’s monthly newspaper.

Speaking as a tech, I’m seeing a lot of folks picking up tablets. Not just the students who are bringing more and more tablets to the school I work for, but their parents and grandparents, too. Every year, more staff members, both current and retiring, are buying iPads when we do our annual bulk purchases. Staff members who are not computer savvy are purchasing iPhones at the behest of their children. I also see parents and grandparents bringing tablets and e-readers to the karate dojo.

Tablets are perfect for people who have no use otherwise for a computer. The elderly are buying them or receiving them as gifts in greater numbers because they can do email, Facebook, and basic web surfing without the hassle—real or perceived—of a laptop or desktop. With the Nexus 7 priced at only $230, it’s very affordable.

Design the pages right, and we could get local, relevant ads in an unobtrusive manner, making local businesses happy and generating more income for the paper. Small ads around the content, larger ads on a full page to swipe past, just like a real paper.

Hell, if I knew anything about app design and programming, I might try to develop a relationship with the local paper and take a crack at it myself. I’m not a business man, but it seems to me a developer catering to hundreds of local papers might do at least as well as a major paper developing its own in-house app.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Enter the Chromebook

I’m going to be testing and evaluating the Google Chromebook for the day job, so of course I’m going to take advantage and evaluate it as a writer as well.

The attached photos are of the Samsung model we purchased. It has an 11″ matte display, USB, HDMI, and SD card ports, and a full-size keyboard that, so far, is comfortable to type on. For comparison purposes, here’s a photo of the Samsung Chromebook sitting beside a first-gen iPad.

Light and portable

Light and portable

So far I like it. From first boot and setup, I had it fully up and running in just over 90 seconds. This includes the few seconds I waited for the text code from Google for my two-factor authentication. All of my desktop/laptop Chrome extensions and bookmarks showed up within a minute or so. I played a YouTube video full screen, and it looked and sounded fine.

My editor has one, and my first impressions upon seeing his and upon starting this one up are the same: this is a nice little machine. I’ll be hammering on it for the next couple of weeks to get a better idea of what it can and can’t do. Because it has offline storage for Google Drive built in, Google Docs will be my default text editor when I’m writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a few weeks, either way.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Gone Digital

I’m responsible for the death of Borders and the decline of Barnes & Noble.

That’s right, me, and thousands of others like me who now do most of their reading in digital formats.

Some occasional research aside, I now do all of my reading through the Amazon Kindle app, Apple’s Newsstand, or digital comics apps like comiXology. I’ve gotten tired of the extra clutter on shelves and around the house, and of stacks of books I may or may not actually get around to reading. I like having my entire library available to me on demand at any time, so I can flip from prose to comics to magazines on a whim, and I never feel stuck with a book I’m not enjoying. Shopping for new material is a click away, and clipping a magazine article is a simple matter of grabbing a screen shot and pushing it over to Evernote.

I. Love. It.

I even appreciate simple gimmicks, like interactive ads. Take this one from an issue of MuscleMag, featuring a video:

A brain break to watch things get blowed up good.

A brain break to watch things get blowed up good.

For a product I’m interested in, I’m absolutely cool with extras like this. If it’s not something I’m interested in, I swipe on by as if I were turning the page on any other ad in a magazine. (One note: if these ever become pop-ups or autoplays, publishers, we’re going to have words.)

I’m waiting for it to be properly taken advantage of in the actual content. I could care less about digital extras in fiction. I’m there for the prose, not the gimmicks. However, things like maps and infographics in newspapers and magazines could be greatly enhanced with multimedia content, just like we’re starting to see in textbook apps in the education world. And have you ever seen some of the convoluted and clumsy explanations for simple movements in sports and fitness magazines? A simple, animated image would be great, and wouldn’t even require full video download. Something like a simple gif would be perfect.

Are there cons to going all digital? Sure. The big ones are the tales of entire Amazon libraries being wiped out, or hackers nuking digital accounts. Fortunately these incidents are few and far between, especially given the millions of Amazon accounts out there. I’m hopeful these are growing pains of the digital transition, and these companies are reviewing and updating policies as these incidents occur.

The rest of the cons, however, are far from insurmountable:

I need the feel of a hardcopy book when I read. I just feel more connected. Even the smell of the book is wonderful!

Get over yourself, precious. Yeah, I felt the same way for a time. Then I realized how much easier it is to hold a Kindle or a tablet. An iPad is a bit heavy if you like to lie down in bed and read, but no heavier than a fat hardback book. The 7″ Nexus—and, presumably, an iPad mini—is very comfortable to hold anywhere. iPod touch? The latest Kindles and Nooks? Cake. And anything with a backlit display means reading in the dark without a goofy book light.

In short: don’t knock it until you try it.

Those digital screens are just too small.

Teachers all said the same thing when I told them they would be getting 13″ MacBooks to work on. Since the MacBooks have been distributed, I have not heard a single complaint.

The problem isn’t screen size, it’s resolution. Digital displays of all sizes are now as sharp and clear as printed content, and their higher contrast makes them even easier to read for some people. A good friend of mine is legally blind and reads print books with his nose two inches from the page, but when I handed him an iPad with the Kindle app and turned it to white text on a black screen, he could read it from what most of us would consider a normal distance.

I used to say my cell phone was too small for long reading. While stuck waiting for something and bored out of my mind, I pulled out my phone and opened the Kindle app. Within just a couple of page turns, I forgot all about the fact I was reading on a tiny screen, and now I hardly know the difference.

And Whispersync saving my page between devices? Gravy.

I can’t read outside!

Again, not as bad as it used to be with anti-glare coatings and brighter displays. This is going to come down to personal preference, but I don’t read outside near enough to make this an issue for me.

I have to worry about battery life!

Poor planning is your problem. Yes, I’ve screwed up with the iPad. I just pick up the cell phone instead. And if you let an e-ink Kindle or Nook die, you clearly aren’t paying attention.

I can’t figure out all these new-fangled devices and all these passwords!

Learn by doing. Ask questions. This problem isn’t about age, it’s about stubbornness.

I’ve gone all digital, and I’m not looking back.

Which then begs the question, do bookstores and libraries still have a place in the digital age?

Yes, they do. But that’s a topic for another post.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Tumblin’ Along

I’ve joined the Tumblr ranks with a blog called Burn With Me.

I first signed up to reserve my name. I considered using it for research or as a brain dump like some other writers do, but that just doesn’t work for me (Evernote is far more practical). I thought about microblogging, or doing something like Brian has with his resurrected Jobs in Hell, but that’s just too specific and ultimately takes away from anything I might do right here.

I ignored it for a while, content to just leave my reserved name there. But I started to see how it integrated with so many other services, including Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, and Fitocracy. I realized how many people endlessly reblogged images, and how far it reached. I realized it’s not so much an infodump, but just a quick “this is what I did today” and “this is what I’m into.” It’s quick sharing of art, of cool stuff, of experiences, within its own social network.

There’s even a committed fitness community, especially under the Fitblr tag for the Fitocracy+Tumblr crowd. For example, my Twitter followers and most of my readers here could give half a shit about my daily workouts. On Tumblr, though, there’s a segment looking for that sort of thing specifically.

Even better, I can share both kinds of content because more people are going to find it through tags than they would following me directly via RSS or their Tumblr dashboards. It can be an infodump of a wide range of things without turning off a specific audience. It’s more about socializing and sharing than it is about sales, which is why I think so many creators are still having a tough time wrapping their heads around it.

Do I put teasers and book links on Tumblr from time to time? Absolutely. But if that’s all that’s on there, nobody’s ever going to see any of it. That’s not sharing or socializing, that’s chucking spam into the ether. Once I realized that, I started having a lot more fun with it.

So, if you’re into the Tumblr thing, come on by and Burn With Me.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

NASA Still Has Balls

Check out how the NASA/JPL propellerheads plan to drop the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars safely:

“Seven minutes of terror,” they say. That’s balls.

It’s like something a bunch of elementary school kids would come up with. “It’s gonna have a parachute! And rocket boosters! Oh! Oh! And a sky crane!

You know the real reason they don’t want to fly the Space Shuttles anymore? Because they get to work with awesome projects like this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Just In Time to Stick It to OPEC

The temperatures climbed into the sixties during the early part of the week, and I busted Lenore out of jail.

67 degrees means Lenore can come out to play!

How YOU doin', sexy?

She gets around 50mpg, so it’s just in time as gas prices spike up. We’re averaging $3.89/g around here, with some gas stations inside Peoria already hitting $4 or more. Surprisingly, Gas Buddy says prices in my old stomping grounds around the Chicago ‘burbs are about the same.

Now the pundits are saying gas may hit $5/gallon. They’ve threatened it before, but I imagine it’s got to happen some time. Makes me wish Better Place would hurry up and bring their cars out this way.

I understand they’re setting up charging stations around the Big Island of Hawai’i. If I ever get back out there, I’d like to rent one for at least part of the trip, or take a test drive.

In the meantime, I’ll be content with my motorcycle saving me cash.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smart Windows -> Solar Windows?

So now there are “smart windows” that can turn glass into one-way monitors:

Very cool. Hook one up to my standing desk so I can get all Minority Report up in here.

It also leads me to a bigger question: can we turn the same panels or use similar technology to turn any window into a solar panel for power generation?

A common complaint about solar energy is the surface area required. Yet if you look at the surface area of a single skycraper, multiplied by the available surface area of an entire city full of buildings and skyscrapers already made of glass and on the grid, then what does that yield us? If nothing else, it’s that much less surface area that needs to be taken from land.

I’m sure Samsung and other manufacturers already looking at facing this stuff outward and turning any building into a giant billboard, but how about more practical purposes? Most of downtown Chicago shuts down before the daylight hours are up, so imagine if all of these buildings could be come partially or fully self-sufficient by covering them with solar panels that double as windows, skylights, etc.

Has this been attempted? Is it possible? Beats me, but it seems like modern science should be able to find a way to make this happen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

That Was Then

I saw this old pic in my Flickr stream and it made me think about time wasted.

My Gadget Bag

I carried all that crap to work

I took this for some tech blog or other which had asked “What’s in your gadget bag?” At the time I worked as the sysadmin for a small, family-owned dial-up ISP and had throw myself into IT. Writing wasn’t paying off, I had young children to feed, and I kept worrying I was wasting my time chasing a pipe dream.

This was about the time I had twelve different short stories and novellas lined up for publication, yet only three of them came to fruition. Not a one of those three paid a penny. This was a year after an editor told me he wanted my book for his mass market line and I never heard from him again. Yep, it’s a tough biz, and I flat out couldn’t afford to treat it as anything more than a hobby.

I know better now.

I was good at IT. Hell, I still am. I thought throwing myself into servers and networks would be a much better career plan. I worked at the ISP, I worked on a few computers on the side, and I even wrote a few technical articles and had them published. I read a lot to expand my skills and build up my resumé, and I did the social networking thing to make contacts in the industry.

Pretty soon I realized it was no easier in IT. Techs are a dime a dozen, employers don’t want to talk to a guy without a degree, and tech recruiters don’t know the first thing about the technology they’re recruiting for. I wrote technical articles because I was confident I could get them published, but they didn’t pay any better than the horror markets I was used to. If I wanted to make money writing tech, I would have to build my career the same as I would my horror career.

Only problem is writing those tech articles bored the shit out of me.The studying and reading also bored the shit out of me, and I hated the work. The dial-up ISP got gutted by the arrival of DSL, and tech support is a maddening, soul-sucking exercise in futility. Writing and developing software felt like an option to flex creative muscles, but in reality it too just bored me to tears.

Now which was the waste of time? I wasn’t afraid of hard work, I just misread the odds of payoff and the satisfaction I get out of one vs the other.

I wrote fiction because I loved it. I still write fiction because I love it, despite letting other facets of reality slow things down for much of 2011. I put togetherand had published—Werewolves: Call of the Wild shortly after that revelation. Now Winter Kill is doing well for itself, Lie with the Dead is in development, and the first of two short comics has been released. I had a few other projects published in the meantime, including some of the projects I assumed were dead.

Yeah, I’m still in IT, but doing it for education gives me more time to do what I love on the side. Now I have a much clearer idea of what needs to be done to go to writing full time.

And I also get to travel a lot lighter.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Wearable Death Machine

What a cool concept for an astonishingly bad idea.

Would I take this for a test drive on a closed track? Absolutely. Looks like fun.

Would I own one, or drive one in the city? Nope and hell no. Let’s count the reasons:

  1. You’re about to have a head-on collision. Here are your options: head first or crotch first. Pass. This thing just turned your helmet into a battering ram with your entire body and a big chunk of the chassis behind it.
  2. How do you carry anything? If I’m a commuter, headed to the gym or karate class, or a student, chances are I’m carrying something with me. I don’t see anywhere to hang saddle bags, and there’s no way to wear a harness. Do I strap my laptop or other precious cargo to my chest and pray I don’t accidentally drag it across the asphalt?
  3. If I’m hanging face-down and my arms get tired, or worse, the thing collapses, I’m going to lose a lot of skin. Imagine cruising the highway and suddenly grinding your junk against the asphalt. Yeah, pleasant.
  4. I’m strapped in by what appears to be a five-point harness that has to be strong enough to support a fair amount of weight, say an average of 180-200 lbs at least, more for larger dudes like me. Now imagine I have to escape from this thing in a hurry for a variety of reasons. Possible? If there’s a quick-release option, is it fail-safe while traveling?
  5. This thing transforms on the fly. Okay, what if I run over something while the wheels are in-line or nearly so? Is there something preventing it from falling face first?

I applaud the guy’s desire to create an electric vehicle with light weight and parking efficiency in mind. I’m just not sure this is the right design for it. I will grant #1 on this list is only marginally more dangerous than a sportbike and probably only a few notches worse than any other given motorcycle, but 2 is just a pain and 3-5 are the deal killers.

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.