Tag Archive for travel

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.

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.

Proof of Life

It’s been a busy and exciting week around here. I visited St Louis this week, spending the days with family and the evenings on writing business. The future is looking brighter and brighter, my friends.

The Gateway Arch

This is starting to become a familiar site for me

More business tomorrow, though this time I’m headed the opposite direction into the Windy City.

Then things should quiet down again for a bit, travel-wise. Instead there will be a lot of keyboard time to fill the gaps. It’s good to be busy.

The Exit Strategy rolls forward.

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.

Travel Package

I’m on the road again this weekend and next, and a friend asked me what a writer packs on a weekend trip. That’s not an unusual question, but I’m sure there are as many answers as there are writers. Readers and fans seem to dig workplace/office questions, so I thought answering this question on the blog may interest the same people.

Maybe some other writers (and artists!) will chime in on their blogs, too. What do you say, folks?

In addition to the obvious (clothes, toiletries), here’s what I’m packing:

The iPad
This one’s a no-brainer. It will be used for writing, email, surfing the web, maybe even movies (Netflix) or reading (Kindle, iBooks). Also includes the wireless keyboard and a charger cable.

iPod
I still prefer to keep my music off the iPad to save space, and it’s good to have music when I write. It also has a few games if I need a brain break, and the cool new Sons of Anarchy app.

Moleskines
Two of them, actually: one for my writing notes and one for karate. The former is for brainstorming and reference, the latter for reference if I squeeze in some karate workouts.

Reading Material
Gotta have something for inspiration or uwinding. While I’m migrating most of my reading to digital, I still have a stack of dead tree editions to work through. Also, because I don’t know what I’ll be in the mood for, I pack fiction, non-fiction, and comics. This weekend I have Dance of Death by Preston & Child, The Karate Way by Dave Lowry, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.

Camera Gear
I have a Digital Rebel, a few lenses, and an external flash. I rarely bother with the tripod for travel. I also have the camera adapter for the iPad, but I have yet to test it.

The Smartphone
My leash and my lifeline. Email, Internet, GPS… I’m even tapping out this blog post on it.

All of that minus the camera rig fits neatly into a messenger bag, which lets me travel a lot lighter than I used to with the backpack and laptop. The camera gear goes in a separate shoulder sling bag.

What’s even better is all of this would fit comfortably on my motorcycle and saddle bags. Unfortunately I’m in Illinois and we’re pretty much done with riding weather for the winter unless I really want to bundle up (which takes some of the fun out of the ride).

And there it is. Light and nimble, but with everything I could need.

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.

Burn, Baby, Burn

Burn, Baby, Burn
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Big fires and ancient incantations.

This is how things work at Journey’s End.

This is how the Four Horsemen ride.

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.

La Llama!

La Llama!
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Jim Mack’s also has an emu, goats, sheep, and llamas.

There’s a Monty Python joke in here somewhere, but I’ll leave you to make 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.

Jim Mack's Black Bear

Jim Mack’s Black Bear
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Of all the things I expect to find at an ice cream and mini golf place, a black bear is not on the list.

There was a real Pavlovian thing going on with it, because the moment we walked over to the food vending machine, he started smacking his feeding chute around. We bought 3 handfuls of food for 75 cents; I’m not sure I could entertain the kids as well for that cheap anywhere else.

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.

Ghost Writer

Ghost Writer
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Unca Brian just got himself a ghost writer.

Little Bird will be writing OB’S CLUES, available from Leisure in February 2010.

And oh, look, my bedroom is in the background!

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.

Chickens

Chickens
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

Now that’s a lot of chickens.

Highway travel is strange sometimes. The next fun part is spotting all the funny Pennsylvania town names.

Right now we’re not far from Eighty Four, PA. Reminds me of people who name their kids things like Seven.

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.

Hell Week Winds Down

You know it’s been a long week when you’re looking forward to going back to work and settling back in to a normal routine.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good week. It’s always good to see Brian, Coop and Mikey and spend a few days with good food, good beer, and good cigars. I returned just in time to get the Wife up to see her family for the Joliet NASCAR weekend, then went back home yesterday for board breaking day in karate class. Then it was back up to the in-laws’ place to visit with family some more.

The Hell Week tag comes from all the travel between those events. Four flights and several hours of driving on both ends adds up fast, and this morning I’m dragging ass bigtime. The beer and restaurant food, combined with a failure to shoehorn workouts into the travel mix, resulted in a gain on the scale. Finally, I even had to abandon plans to visit Peoria’s annual hot air balloon festival, partly due to weather and partly due to my own exhaustion.

At this point, working will be easier than vacation, even if I do have to shuffle computers around classrooms this week. I look forward to jumping back on the motorcycle tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to karate workouts and resurrecting the running routine.

The good news is I did fit some writing-related work into the travel. I intended to work up some materials for The Shattered Man (a working title) for a publisher, but I couldn’t get Powerless out of my head so I rolled with it. On one flight I finished outlining the main thrust of the story, and on the following flight I was able to flesh out the secondary characters and their subplots. Sure, I nodded off in mid-jot several times, but in review the notes were solid and I’m very happy with them. I’m also energized after spending time with the guys, even though we probably spent less than 10 minutes discussing writing.

I had a great time, and I can’t complain about my writing progress. In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to getting some sleep tonight.

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.

On the Road Again

I can now get around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Baltimore-Washington International airports with only brief glimpses at the signs. Does that mean I’ve been traveling too much?

Mikey and I arrived none the worse for wear. The same cannot be said for the Hare Krishnas who tried to accost Mikey near the baggage claim. Just ask Brian, who had to help clean up the mess. We then encountered a waiter who tried a little too hard to anticipate our desires and a bartender who didn’t have the knowledge to fulfill our desires. (What kind of pinhead hires a bartender who doesn’t know drink recipes? And what kind of bar hangs a “tiki bar open” sign but doesn’t know how to mix a single tiki drink like the Hala-Kahiki serves? But I digress.) We also learned that the Garmin nuvi supplied by Budget is a piece of crap (I blame its link to MSN) and makes a better dashboard video game than it does a navigator.

As a writer, one of the best parts of travel is collecting stories. People stories, to be exact. I’m not a big fan of people in general, but it’s hard not to do a little people watching and come away with some character ideas. Typically I’ll use someone I’ve spotted — or at least a situation or characteristic I’ve applied to them — for bit players in some of my work. In fact, it’s difficult for me not to come away from travel with a story.

Take, for example, the poor fat folks on my the first leg of my flight. A rather large man sat near me at the gate. Later, I boarded behind a rather large woman. Now, I use the phrase “rather large” generously. Think pre-Weight Watchers Kirstie Alley and pref-coffin John Candy and you’ll smell what I’m cookin’. A rather cruel twist of fate put these two people in the same row on the same side of the aisle fn our tiny little plane. Neither were pleased, and the gentleman quickly asked the steward for a seat reassignment. They had to wait five minutes for boarding to finish, at which point the gentleman fled to another row. They groused about the seats in the meantime, and of course it was the seats which were too small.

Yes, it’s always the seats. Oh how I wish I could read the angry letter the woman threatened to pen. One can only hope she includes a picture to highlight her plight.

On a similar note, I have to thank the obsessive-compulsive man I sat next to on the second leg of my trip. I’m not exactly a small man myself, and while my ass fits in the seats, my shoulders tend to encroach upon the armrest DMZ. This poor guy sat in the middle seat and appeared to shun all human contact, as he practically folded in on himself between me and the guy on the aisle. If he could have shrank away any further, he would have become an Escher version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. This left me plenty of space, which proved especially valuable while sitting on the tarmac for twenty minutes with the engines (and the fans) off.

I have to say, the first leg of my flight wasn’t too bad, either, though I owe that to my tolerance as a father. I sat next to a rather attractive young mom (you know the acronym I’m alluding to) traveling with a baby and a toddler. Her husband and the toddler sat across the aisle, and once the fat man changed seats, she asked if I wanted to do the same. I told her not to worry, it wouldn’t be a problem because I am plagued — er, blessed — with three rugrats myself.

Ten minutes later, baby stabbed me with a slobber-sodden Biscoff Delta Airlines cookie. Mom helped clean the sleeve of my t-shirt, and I did not wig. All three of my children have done (and continue to do) the same to me. Baby screeched that she was hungry. Again, I did not wig, for I am used to such things. Then mom started breast feeding.

Surprise! I still didn’t flinch. I’ll be honest: in most situations, were you to put a breast in my face, you would get a definite reaction. I am a straight male, ergo, boobs are my Kryptonite. Having directly witnessed three years of breast feeding, however, I don’t get too excited when breasts are paired with babies. I’m no Nursing Nazi, but I fully support and encourage such behavior and I say kudos to this woman for putting her baby’s needs ahead of über-conservative pinheads who can’t separate supper time from sex. My wife would have complimented this mom on her bravery, and I thought about doing the same for about half a second before a) noticing her husband was much bigger than I, and b) realizing it may very well have resulted in a collection of uniformed officers waiting for me upon arrival. I imagine it’s just fine for a woman to compliment another woman for breast feeding, but I fear any male endorsement would just come out as another way of saying “Nice tits!”

There are other stories. The co-ed with the underlined omega tattoo, which I automatically ascribed to nefarious occult practices rather than the far more likely sorority logo, only to find it may have an astronomical meaning after all. The guy who came rushing at me, whom I suddenly expected to proclaim “I’m tripping balls, yo!” The collection of bleached-blonde beach bunnies, all traveling separately, who congregated near the same point for several seconds then quickly disbanded, as if all summoned by the same signal. The tall woman in the pant-suit and the shoes with the peek-a-boo toes who turned the head of every man in concourse A of Hartsfield-Jackson International, and knew she did it. The mature gentleman showing off his XO laptop for a woman in what I’m convinced was some elaborate pick-up scheme. The meth addict in the too-small sun dress who just finished turning tricks behind the Krystal stand. The wide-eyed young man staring into space as he listened to his iPod, which no doubt included subliminal orders to kill (recorded by Steve Jobs hisownself and broadcast via iTunes).

I’ll admit I’m a little off on some of those. What can I say, I live in a sinister world.

I’m a horror writer, after all.

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.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I’m posting this from gate 1 of the Greater Peoria Regional Airport. I love this place.

It’s almost always a ghost town, so I made it from the front door, through check-in, past security, and to the gate in less than five minutes. Their wall outlets are easily accessible from the seats, and they have free wireles throughout the concourse. They also have an oddball radio station which just went from Neil Diamond to The Kinks to Zager & Evans.

People are starting to accumulate at the gate, but just a few minutes ago there were only two other people here. That worked in my favor when I received an email loaded with mock demotivational posters that about brought me to to tears. Because I have nothing better to do (actually, I could be writing/plotting, but procrastination is a bitch), I thought I’d share my favorites here. Enjoy.

First, some inspired Photoshop:

Why didn’t Wizard World have one of these?

I used to see this guy on Chicago television. Never pegged him for a perp!

Because fat people have weddings, too:

Ten seconds later, this man was dead:

Finally, I give you my favorite.

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.

Wandering Karateka

I had a good time at Wizard World, but man did I miss karate class.

I walked into the dojo for the first time in a week tonight, and I hadn’t done so much as a punching exercise or push-up in the meantime. A week may not sound long, but I felt out of touch. I found myself reviewing my kata, Naihanchi Sho, in my head while I stood in line. Lucky for me muscle memory kicked in as I bowed in and I made it through my kata and its interpretation without difficulty.

It’s going to get worse, though. I’ll miss three consecutive classes visiting family and attending a wedding this month, and then I’ll miss three consecutive classes again in early August on a family vacation. That also includes a review week, which may cause me to miss an opportunity to advance a stripe (and thus throw off my goal of achieving sankyu, or 3rd degree brown belt, by the New Year). In order to help keep things sharp, or to at least get a workout on the road, I started looking for karate schools in the areas I’ll be visiting.

As with many things martial arts, there are those for and against the idea.

The main problem is a question of style. Attending a kung fu or tae kwon do class probably wouldn’t do me much good, but there are Shotokan karate clubs not far from where I’ll be. I study Shuri-ryu, and both styles have their roots in Shuri, Okinawa. They each have a signature style, but they share a large part of their lineage.

In a recent blog entry, Sensei Charles Goodin says he doesn’t take students from other styles. He has several reasons for the policy, but in general he compares it to mixing gasoline and diesel fuel in a car: it just doesn’t work. The visitor will not gain anything from the visit, and their presence may only be a distraction to the dojo’s regular students. He describes it further:

“There is a saying that ‘you can’t catch two rabbits.’ The rabbits tend to run off in different directions. For this reason, if a student wants to join our dojo, I would expect him to only practice our style of Karate. Practicing two styles at the same time is very difficult. You have to empty the bucket before you can fill it.”

On the other side of the coin, Sensei Stephen Irwin compares karate to driving lessons: no matter your style, you’re learning the basics and it’s up to you to apply them. To pull a quote from his blog entry:

“Regardless of the vehicle driving is driving. Regardless of the art fighting is still just fighting. The presentation of driving/fighting skills might vary, but the underlying principles are the same regardless.”

Sensei Irwin’s post does not address the issue of visiting students, but I would guess from this post that he isn’t opposed to the idea. Which one is right? Both, I suppose. They each follow what works for them in their respective dojos, and I understand both points of view.

Personally, I think I would enjoy working out with another school. My school also teaches Haganah and Judo, and it’s always fun to get a glimpse of those arts. I like seeing how other karate styles interpret their kata, and it would be interesting to get a taste of their kumite or self defense methods.

From a student point of view, however, would it be a good idea? My sensei once said he would welcome students from other styles, and they would run their kata their way so we could discuss the differences. However, would other sensei tell a student his style is wrong? It hardly does me any good to show up at a Shotokan school if the sensei in question were to just turn his nose up at the way I’ve been taught. Even if I get a good physical workout, it wouldn’t be any fun to walk out of that dojo hurt or angry. In that case I’d have been better off skipping a week.

So what’s a rookie karateka to do? Two things:

  1. Work harder to get off my butt and get those personal workouts in. It’s not like I’ll be facing a con schedule during the next two trips.
  2. Call those dojos, talk to their instructors, and hope for the best.

Some of our school’s black belts travel frequently for their jobs, and they tell me they have attended classes with other dojos and it’s gone well for them. With luck it will be the same for 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.