Snow and Comments

It snowed last night. A thick, wet, yucky snow that subsequently froze, accumulating to perhaps a couple of inches. I used to like snow. But now I find it just about the most annoying weather there is, with the possible exception of cold rain, which we have had for the previous week, so I suppose the snow is an improvement. On another note, I get a lot of Chinese comments. I’ll probably get one on this post. I always mark them as spam, so on the off chance that there is actually a real Chinese person out there trying to comment on my posts, sorry.

Thoughts on Laptops

So I’m trying to come up with my future plan for computers. I have had a 4th gen iPad for a while now, and the Retina display is a thing of beauty. I just want to stare at it all day. When I look back at my Windows desktop running 1920×1080 on an LCD monitor, the eye torture I must endure to look at text makes me physically ill.

So of course I am now thinking that my next computer must be a 15″ MacBook Pro with a Retina display. But have you seen how much those things cost? Holy crap. It’s more than what a computer and monitor cost way back at the beginning of computers!

So I went looking for a Windows laptop with a Retina-like display. Only… there aren’t any. I mean, none. They don’t exist. The best Windows laptops have 1920×1080 screens and that’s it, which is 100-150 dpi at best. (That’s not bad, except compared to the Retina iPad.)

It makes me think about what I do with my computers. Shouldn’t 1920×1080 be enough? At this moment, I spend the vast majority of my time on a computer (at home) doing one of these things: web browsing (ie. reading or watching), writing, or playing games. Playing games isn’t much of a consideration since I’ll almost always be using a desktop PC for that. And 1920×1080 is the perfect size for watching video. But I am worried about the reading and writing.

But here’s the thing. I can always put the iPad next to the laptop to read things on the web. I can even write things on the iPad with a keyboard attached. It works quite well for that. I could easily see it as my main writing machine actually. Talk about distraction-free writing.

So I’m not sure what my point is. Except I probably don’t need a new laptop yet.

But if I were going to get one, I am looking at these candidates: A 15” MacBook Pro Retina, of course, a Vizio 15” notebook, a 15” Samsung Series 9 thin-and-light, or this thing called a CyberpowerPC 15” gaming laptop, which is kind of ugly and heavy, but a gaming powerhouse. Right now I almost never want to run a game on a laptop, though, so it would probably be pointless.

It occurs to me that if I get the MacBook Pro, I can run Windows on it with Boot Camp or VirtualBox. So why don’t I just save myself a lot of trouble and just get a MacBook Pro? Because it’s expensive as crap, that’s why. And it will only have a 2 year lifespan, as with any laptop.

At the bottom of the cliff

Not surprisingly, all sides reached a deal on the fiscal cliff negotiations, so the cliff was more of a pothole. It’s rather difficult to find actual information among the news reports, but it looks like, among other more mundane things, the tax increase on 200k earners that Obama was adamant about changed to a tax increase on 400k earners, which could either be considered a win for Republicans or a compromise by everyone. Either way, it still doesn’t affect me.

In fact, according to this Fox News story, I’ll only have to worry about a few changes to tax codes that I don’t understand and frankly don’t care about, and a 2% increase in the FICA number on my paychecks. Other than that, I don’t see anything that’s going to affect me, unless I put a lot more work into building up my estate. And, well, I’ll be dead so I won’t have to worry about my estate anyway. 🙂

But a major part of the cliff—the spending cuts—was put off for two more months, perhaps so that it won’t be quite so much in the news next time. Everyone is now so sick of talking about the fiscal cliff that nobody will want to revisit it again in two months, unless it gets another catchy name. Maybe the Fiscal Abyss? Or the Fiscal Cliffs Of Insanity.

It’s 2013 And It’s Still Hard To Publish To A Blog

As this is the first day of the new year, which has nothing but an arbitrary significance, since it’s not like anything particularly meaningful happens today except the recycling of the work of Pope Gregory, I am going to write a post about something just as arbitrary: How frustrating it is to write blog posts.

 

It is now 2013. This is an incredibly advanced, science-fiction-sounding year. Yet still, it is an incredible pain in the butt to compose and publish long-form blog posts.

 

I am typing this right now in Windows Live Writer. This is a great little program that does exactly one thing: Lets you compose a minimally-formatted bit of text and post it to a blog on the Interwebs. It’s very rare to find a desktop application that does only one thing, but this is one, and it does it well.

 

So you’d think I wouldn’t be complaining since I have this great blog-posting tool.

 

But no, I’m complaining. Because it is quite rare for me to sit down at my Windows desktop for long enough to write an entire blog post, edit it, then publish it. Like, amazingly rare. I start these kinds of posts when I am thinking about them and have nothing more pressing to do. Most of the time, when I start writing a long-form post like this, something else will grab my attention long before I’m finished, and then 3/4 of a post will sit in my Drafts folder for the rest of eternity, never to be seen, until the atoms composing this hard drive eventually fall apart when the universe expands so far out into nothingness that everything that ever existed dies. This post might end up that way.

 

If I know for a fact that I am not going to finish a blog post in one sitting, I definitely won’t start writing it in Live Writer. I shouldn’t have done it this time, because my brain is exploding with things I want to write about this subject, and I keep starting new paragraphs, and none of it will fit in one posting, so I really should have planned for a longer period of time to write them down, then edit them down into a concise, meaningful essay, instead of just rambling along like I’m doing now.

 

So why not quit complaining and save it, then pull up the Draft and continue it later? Why indeed. That makes perfect sense. Except that Windows Live Writer only runs on Windows. It doesn’t run on my smart phone, or my tablets. It doesn’t run on a MacBook Pro, which there is a moderate chance I might buy in the future. And it certainly doesn’t run on computers I don’t have control over, like say, the ones at your average workplace where IT departments are run like tiny little police states.

 

So if I don’t think I’m going to finish—which is a distinct possibility right now, since I’m getting tired and would now just as soon go read a book and go to bed—I have to take this draft and copy it to another document. That’s right, I have to select the whole text with CTRL-A, press CTRL-C, and then paste it into either an email or a text file or a some other kind of document.

 

Right now my blogs are running WordPress. So you might think I could simply paste this text into a Draft on the web site itself. Then I could load it up and edit it on any platform that has a web browser. How convenient!

 

No, not really. The default WordPress web editor kind of sucks, for one thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s great for a web-based editor. But it sucks compared to a native desktop app, as so many web-based applications do.

 

Then there is another problem: I may not even have access to my blog. I might want to work on this post during a lull at work, but my fascist IT department has blocked access to every useful web site under the sun. Maybe I want to work on this post when the whole network has collapsed, or I don’t have access to Wi-Fi, or the power is out, and I can’t do anything else until it’s restored. What to do then?

 

The only answer to those questions is to work on it on my smart phone, which is generally not a pleasant prospect. I can type a Twitter-sized message on a smart phone, but if I want to type sentences, I’m generally not going to turn to a smart phone unless there’s a Bluetooth keyboard attached. (I’ll be exploring that idea soon, by the way.)

 

I think what I’m trying to say is that I need this blog post text to be extremely portable. I need to be able to open it from work, on my home Windows desktop or laptop, a possible future MacBook Pro, an Android smart phone, a Kindle Fire HD, or an iPad. I need to be able to open it from work, from home, from my car stuck in traffic, or … well, okay let’s face it, I never go anywhere, so those are the only places I ever am.

 

The easy answer for portability is to write this post and save it in a plain text file. Okay, so I am now going to stop typing in Windows Live Writer, copy this post to a text file, and save it… somewhere. But where? I could save it to my hard drive, but then I could only access it on my local network. I couldn’t access it from work, or my car stuck in traffic. That only leaves The Cloud.

 

The Cloud is an amazing thing, when used wisely. (It is amazingly dangerous when you rely on it completely, though.) I personally prefer one of three “cloud drive” solutions: Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft Skydrive. These things are great because when you install them on your local desktop, you create a virtual folder on your computer where the files are mirrored up into the cloud. That means you can access them anywhere you can install the Dropbox, GDrive, or Skydrive applications, which is basically any platform anywhere. Dropbox is the oldest and most reliable and most versatile and most compatible of the three, but the other two are catching up fast and have the rather considerable muscle of Google and Microsoft behind them. (Apple has a cloud too, but, you know, it’s an Apple thing.)

 

Okay so I’m going to put my blog post text file into a Dropbox folder. Problem solved, right? Not quite.

 

(Hold on a second while I actually do that, because I can sense that I’m not going to finish this post tonight.)
All right, I am now sitting in bed and typing in an iPad app called Textilus (using a keyboard, because typing on the screen sucks). This is the first time I’ve used this app so I don’t know how well it will work. I’m actually testing this to see what happens.

Oh, I have to use COMMAND-Z to undo in the Apple world, not CONTROL-Z like the rest of the world. I get it now. That’s not annoying at all.

Ahem. Okay. As I was saying. What was I saying? Ah yes. I was explaining all of the problems with blog posts that are edited as text files in Dropbox.

First let’s talk about the text files themselves. The plain text files. You see, plain text files are just that. Plain. Unformatted. No bold, italics, underlining, strike throughs, or anything like that. And yet, blog posts can contain all sorts of formatting. Different fonts, colors, etc. I personally try to stick with very minimal formatting, because I like to think of myself as an author, and authors use the power of words to convey their meaning, not formatting. So I try to restrict myself to simple italics and some headings. Although I do also use bold face occasionally for blog posts. Because people like to see phrases in bold face, so they can skim through the article and just pick out the important parts, because people don’t read any more. So you are to be commended for even seeing this. If it ever gets off my hard drive, that is. Oh, I also use block quotes occasionally, when making fun of someone else. I mean, commenting. Not making fun of. Commenting. That’s it.

Wow, Textilus says this document is 1500 words long so far! That is almost a single day’s worth of NaNoWriMo writing, and I’m nowhere near finished yet! This is why I don’t ever finish blog posts.

Erm. What was I talking about again? Oh, formatting. You can’t do it in a text file. So right there, that means I need something more robust than text. And that means I need something more robust than a plain text editor. However, I can let that slide for now. There is this inline formatting language called called Markdown which allows me to put _italics_ into a plain text document and process it later. It’s neat. So we’ll assume that plain text is fine.

But then there is the problem of meta data. That’s right, I said meta data. You see, a blog post is more than just text. The text is just the body of the post. A post also has a title, and a category, and a date, and tags, and possibly a host of other attributes tacked onto it. In my case, a title and category is sufficient. It would be nice to attach a date as well, since I might want to retain a January 1 date on this particular post, even though I might not post it until tomorrow, January 2. Or even January 3. Or January 27th. Or April 17th. Or never. Because I might never finish it. See above somewhere about atoms falling apart.

So plain text doesn’t work because I can’t attach any meta data to the document. What to do? Well, one solution would be to store the blog post in HTML format. This would be very convenient, actually. HTML has text formatting capabilities built-in in the form of markup tags. HTML has meta data. It has a title tag. It has extensible meta tags, although I don’t know of any universal standards for categories.

Hold on a second while I check to make sure this is actually saving to Dropbox and not some weird internal Textilus storage that nobody else can see.

Ugh. I should have known. Of _course_ it isn’t syncing with Dropbox. Now hold on a second while I figure out how to export what I’ve written here back into Dropbox. Grr.

That’s done. Not the way I wanted it to, of course. I wanted it to write back over the same file. But no, it had to make its own special directory on Dropbox. Okay, whatever. That’ll work for this post, I guess. But I don’t think I’m going to stand for that going forward. Not at all. I won’t stand for it!

What was I talking about? Problems. That was one problem. Interoperability. Every stinking app thinks they know how to do everything for you. Really? I just want to bring up the Dropbox app, tap on a document, and edit it, and then save it again. Is that so much to ask? Well, apparently it is on the iPad. I don’t have that trouble with Android. Maybe I should do all my blog post editing with my Kindle Fire HD. But then, this iPad display is so beautiful. I just like staring at it. Ahhhh, so pleasant to look at text without jaggies. Also, I don’t have a keyboard for the Kindle yet. Because of course, the Apple Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t work with it. Of course! Maybe it’s not Bluetooth. I dunno. Whatever. That doesn’t matter.

I’m getting tired of writing this post. Let’s check the word count. I’m going to guess it’s over 2000, which is more than I can reasonably write in one sitting. (Wait.) Yep, nailed it. 2037. If I were writing fiction, I would need to take a break if I wanted to keep writing anything of value. But I can’t now, because I wanted to post this on New Year’s Day and it’s after 10 PM now, which is supposed to be my bed time. So back to it. Later, I’ll have to write a summary post explaining what the salient points of _this_ post were, because I don’t remember what they are. Except that it’s still not easy to write long-form blog posts in 2013. That’s the point. Because it’s in the title.

I really need a laptop for writing in bed. The iPad+keyboard combo isn’t very effective. The keyboard needs to be connected to the screen and the screen needs to be able to stand on its own. At least if I want to lie back.

Enough of that. There was another problem with this but I can’t think of it now. Oh! I remember now.

Publishing the bloody posts! Say I was finished with this post. If I’m writing in a text editor, how do I post it on the blog? I don’t know, that’s how. The only thing I know will work anywhere is to bloody copy the text from the text editor and paste it into the WordPress text editor. And that doesn’t work everywhere. And WordPress doesn’t support Markdown by default.

Blood and bloody ashes! I’m starting to sound like Mat Cauthon. (I’ve been trying to finish The Towers of Midnight.)

What I need is a “Share” option that will post a document on my blog. So for example, if I’m looking at Dropbox, and I tap on my document, and tap the Share thingy, and one of the options is “Publish to your blog.” That would be sweet. That’s one of the very cool things about Windows Live Writer – the one-button publishing feature. (Of course, the blog would have to be an Atom or XML-RPC standard blog.)

That share option brings a whole other set of problems though. For example, _which_ blog? Technically I have four of them, though I only frequently post on two of them. (Frequent being a relative term.)

Well, clearly I’m not going to solve this problem tonight. But I’m going to ponder on this some more. There must be a way to make these new-fangled computers bend to my will!

P.S. In order to post this, I had to get up and come back to my desktop PC, open the text file that Textilus exported to its own special folder on Dropbox, and copy-and-paste the text into the WordPress web editor. And since there is no meta data, I have to type in a Title and add a Category still. Also, I left the extra line spaces at the beginning to further illustrate how much of a pain this is.