So long, Apple. It’s been nice.

In 1983 or 1984, I was a senior in high school. The year I had started there, they had received a bunch of new Apple ][ computers, and there was no one on staff who knew how to use them. (Previously the computer class had used terminals hooked to a computer in a semi trailer parked outside the school building.)

I was hooked as soon as I sat down at one of the new machines, and it wasn’t long before I was able to offer instruction to my computer teacher, who had duties beyond spending every free hour on the computers.

It was because of this that I was invited by the faculty to attend a special meeting offered by Apple, to show off a new computer they were introducing. I don’t know if it had already been released (hence my uncertainty about the date) but the computer was the brand-new Macintosh.

I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything so perfect. The black-on-white display, the fine resolution (72 dpi), the mouse, and the motorized 3.5″ floppy drive… I told the faculty that they were looking at the future, right there.

It would be several years before I was able to purchase a computer of my own, but when I did, it was a Macintosh SE/30, upgraded to 5MB of RAM and a 40MB hard disk drive. My wife still reminds me of my assurance that we would never need to buy more storage than that. When people asked me what kind of computer to get, I would always point them to the Mac, and I seldom had anyone be disappointed with my advice.

In the mid-1990s, when the press was beating the drum of Apple’s demise I was confident that their deep cash reserves and superior engineering (both software and hardware) would see them through. I never had a problem with Apple until Steve Jobs came back to the company and cancelled the cloning program.

Now, I had purchased a computer while the clone program was still going on. I had really wanted to buy a UMAX clone, partly because I really liked their scanners, but when it came down to it, the Apple Macintosh 7500 was a better computer for the money, and that’s what I had got. However, it bugged me that Steve had shut down the competition, and I remember stomping up and down the service floor expressing my indignation. I don’t know if someone else asked me, or if I asked myself, “So, what are you going to do?”

The question settled me instantly. Most of my work at that time was building and fixing Windows-based computers. Windows 95 was the shipping OS, and I knew quite a bit about how to get it working under various conditions. I also knew that I never wanted to rely on Windows 95 for anything. I might have started playing with Linux, but it was a really raw operating system, and wasn’t really a player. I realized that I wasn’t going to not use a Mac just to spite Steve Jobs — that would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

Later, in 2000, Mac OS X came out and revolutionized everything all over again. With the Unix underpinnings and bundled developer tools, OS X not only reinvigorated Apple, it also breathed new life into that other Unix derivative, Linux. Being able to do things in the Bash shell on both Linux and Mac, and being able to recompile lots of software to work on either helped both platforms to grow. I experimented with Linux from time to time, but the Mac was so stable, and had such good software, that I didn’t need to switch, and didn’t really want to.

When the iPhone came out, I was disappointed that the openness we had seen on OS X was not carried on with the mobile platform. Although iOS is built on the same technology as OS X, Apple chose to lock it down, and they locked it down rather tight. This didn’t stop me from jailbreaking my phone a couple of times (‘rooting’ in Android parlance) and I loved the smooth performance of the computer in my pocket. The integration with my Mac was nice, too, and although I was skeptical of iCloud (or .Mac, or the other incarnations) I was able to do most of what I wanted without handing Apple all of my keys.

This began to change when Apple began to push iOS updates harder and harder. Suddenly my friendly Apple phone was behaving like malware, using misdirection and social engineering to try to trick me into installing an update I didn’t want. It downloaded the update to my limited phone memory using equally limited foreign cell minutes while I was traveling overseas. I set the iPhone on my bedside table and left it there, getting an Android phone instead.

While I had spent years working to keep Google from invading my life, I was surprised to find that it was actually pretty easy to block them from tracking my Android phone. Turning off the voice assistant, blocking various permissions, I was struck at how easy it was to protect my privacy on the Android, where with the iPhone I had been faced with the binary choice: install or don’t install the software, but don’t ask what it accesses.

Meanwhile, Apple was also beginning to make life difficult on the desktop. Starting with Mac OS X Yosemite, they wanted to prevent me from having root access to my own computer. Suddenly the little tricks and hacks that had been coming over from the Linux world were stymied — my friendly Mac wanted to keep me, its owner, at arms’ length. I disabled SIP (System Integrity Protection, the Orwellian name for giving Apple more control over my own computer than I had) and soldiered on, ignoring the Sierra and High Sierra updates that broke so much of the large software collection I had accumulated in decades of using the Mac. I also didn’t like the interface changes that had crept in, removing so much of what made the Mac interface intuitive after using it since 1984.

In short, I began to feel towards Apple the way I had once felt towards Microsoft. They weren’t interested in how I wanted to use a computer — they wanted to tell me what to do, and how to do it. Facing challenges with syncing my Android phone to the Mac, looking at more and more of my software breaking as they pushed out updates, being nagged by my other Apple software (Pages, and the rest of the iWork suite, iPhoto and its replacement) to upgrade my system, I finally decided that it was time to try something different.

I downloaded and installed Peppermint Linux 9 on one of the spare drives in my computer. (Only possible because I am using an older Mac with lots of room for drives. Newer Mac models are restrictive in that way.) I rebooted into Linux and found that I could now go days and weeks without needing my Mac. My Android phone mounted seamlessly on the desktop. My calendar and contacts were syncing nicely with my NextCloud server. Although some software, like 1Password, and Scrivener, were no longer options for my computer, I found many new programs that had no peer on the Mac. And while I could run Linux in a virtual machine on the Mac, and have not yet figured the intricacies out of running Mac OS in a virtual machine under Linux on the Mac, Linux was so much faster, using the multiple processor cores where Safari on the Mac (and just booting) had chugged slowly along, draining time from my day.

I miss the Mac. I truly miss what it was. Peaking somewhere around Lion, Mac OS was a beautiful thing, and a real tribute to the engineers who put it all together. Somewhere along the way (and I must admit it began before Steve Jobs died) Apple lost their way, and began to push novelty for its own sake, and to wrap their customers into a tighter and tighter cocoon of Apple-only software. Where previously I had been able to plug something in and confidently expect it to “just work”, they had opted for a system where if it wasn’t from Apple, it probably wouldn’t.

I’m typing this update in Chromium on Linux, on my Mac Pro tower. Mac OS El Capitan is still installed on another partition, and I reboot to it once every week or two to try to salvage some remnant of my former life, like Crusoe returning to the ship wreck. Like him, I wonder if one of these times I’ll find that the sea has reclaimed the last thing I wanted — if it will be my last visit to those familiar boards. I wonder what software I’ll use for my writing, as NaNoWriMo approaches in November. Mostly, I feel a deep sadness for the friend I trusted — for their tech, even when I questioned their business decisions — who finally drove me away.

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An Unexpected Gem

Many years ago, before the Internet and cell phones, it was often difficult to find games for the Mac at the stores where I normally shopped. As a result, I would sometimes impulse-buy things on the possibility that it might contain something that I would later enjoy. One of these things was the Mac Game Cube, a stack of CD Jewel Cases that was cubic, and that included quite a few games. I played with a few of them, but ignored most of them — shovel ware was more of a problem on Windows, but it did exist for the Mac (as indeed, it still does).

Years later, as I was going through my software, I found the installer for System Shock, installed it, and found myself blown away by the fantastic game. There was another Mechwarrior-like game whose name I don’t recall, whose premise was silly, but the gameplay and graphics were amazing (for the time).

This experience showed me that the first impression you have of something isn’t always deserved, and sometimes you can get something for nothing (or at least, thrown in with what you were looking for).

I don’t know which extravaganza of free books I was perusing when I stumbled upon Monster Hunter International, but I do know that it was quite a while ago, and I had put the ebook onto a virtual shelf and not thought much more about it.

The cover was a little overly dramatic, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a blood-and-guts monster romp. Finally, while I was overseas, I decided it was time for me to check it out. I synced it to the Kindle app on my phone and started reading.

The opening didn’t grab me, partly because the style was kind of flippant, and I have had some bad experiences with Indie authors, but by the time I finished the first chapter, I was intrigued.

Monster Hunter gets so many things right that it would be difficult for me to list them (especially without giving away too many spoilers). Principally, although the book is predictable in the sense that you’re pretty sure the good guys are going to win, Larry Correia managed to introduce plot twists again and again without doing crazy deus-ex-machina things to get there. Every time I started to roll my eyes and sigh and say, “I suppose he’s going to do this next,” he did something very different, and he pulled me through to the end of the story, and left me wanting more. (There are at least six books in the series, so I shouldn’t have any trouble sating that desire.)

Larry is a “gun-nut”, a competitor in multiple civilian gun competitions, and it showed in what he wrote. The main character is passionate about his guns, and the loving detail given about them throughout the book is a lot of fun. There’s some fun Libertarianism throughout, as well, which is a refreshing contrast to the socialism that infects so much Sci-Fi. Most of all, Larry’s style is engaging, his characters are flawed, but likable, and he doesn’t need an editor with the same desperation as many other lesser-known authors (or he’s used one).

Content warnings: quite a lot of anatomical violence, primarily against monsters, but occasionally against the protagonist. There is some sexual content, but it’s generally very discrete. Finally, the characters have a modern sense of foul language, and the book is full of obscenities. I would not recommend this book to a younger reader who needs to establish a moral framework, nor to someone who struggles with bad language, nor to someone squeamish about gore, but it’s otherwise a delightful read, and highly recommended to other readers interested in a modern fantasy/sci-fi urban fantasy action adventure.

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Help for Authors

Authors need help. Goodness, me, but we need help. We need help, because we think we have stories that other people will pay money to read! We need help because we spend precious hours of our lives researching things that virtually no one else cares about, so that we don’t mess up that particular detail of our story. (We’ll mess up numerous other details, but that one will be fine!) I’m pretty good with numbers, but I don’t think I can count all of the ways in which writers need help.

That said, there are a couple of ways in which we can actually get help. (I’m not talking about paying a psychiatrist — that would be a very different sort of post.) The DW (or, as Rumpole would refer to her, “She who must be obeyed”) decided that it would be fun for us to have a reading challenge this year. There were people at her work who were talking about being in a Century club, where the goal was to read 100 books in 2018. She decided that 100 might be a bit of a challenge for our first attempt, so she gave us each a goal of 50 books to read before 2018 dissolves in ashes some twelve months hence.
Now, initially, I wondered where I would be able to find the time to read 50 books (almost 1 per week) in 2018, and I thought how difficult it would be to get Acerrimus and Nether Master published with that kind of a workload imposed. However, I used to read quite a lot, and this is a good excuse to (eventually) buy a bunch of books, so I plunged in, reading a classic (in the sense of being an old book), The Book of Were-wolves. I won’t trouble you with the entire litany of books I read (if you’re interested in the details you can follow me on GoodReads) but I realized that reading books is a good way to reflect upon my own writing. Yes, I’ve read many books, many of which were terrific, and I’ve internalized a lot of their lessons in my own writing over the many years of my life. However, I’ve also forgotten a lot of lessons over those same many years, and it does a lot of good to scour the rust off of the old brain-case periodically and take a fresh look at the work of other authors. (It may also be an encouragement in another way. While I greatly enjoyed the story of the Chronicles of Amber, Zelazney’s terrible writing encouraged me with the thought that if he could get published, then certainly I could, too!) One book I’ve read that reminded me to look at my descriptive text and try to amp up the immersion through clear description is Death Be Not Proud. It’s a fun retelling of a classic fairytale (with enough obfuscation that my initial report on it guessed the wrong two) and Suzannah Rountree has that eye for descriptive detail that got my own juices flowing again.
Another book I read is K. M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out. I really don’t like to be told how to write, and I’m terribly suspicious of people who try to make an art into a science, but Weiland has some good insights (largely gleaned from the writing of other writers’ aids) and I have decided to apply them to the two drafts currently awaiting polishing in my dungeon. While my flesh crawls at the idea of measuring and cutting my story according to these patterns, it certainly can’t hurt to evaluate it by the pattern, can it? And, if it would take only a bit of tweaking to get it to align with the approved story structure, it could be an entertaining experiment. I could see if my beta readers like it better, or if I get more reviews on Amazon when using this technique.
So, I guess I’ll have to think of some way to thank the DW, as this exercise is already starting to bear fruit, and we haven’t gotten half-way through January, yet. Perhaps I’ll wash the dishes.

 

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A New Author and Smashwords

So, here I am, new published author, Follis Wood. My print book is en route from Amazon (published using Createspace  and all is well with the world. In the past, when I helped my daughter start publishing, I put her ebook up using Amazon’s services as well, using Kindle Direct Publishing  My daughter, the incomparable Kimia Wood, has since chafed at some of the restrictions on KDP, so she made her second major novel available through Smashwords. Eager for new experiences, I submitted my novel to Smashwords, sifting through their style guide as quickly as I could, only to have my archaic .DOC-formatted manuscript flung back in my virtual face.

Undeterred, I tweaked the already-functioning table of contents to meet Smashwords’ discriminating standards, but to no avail! This time, I was confronted with a quandary. The review at Smashwords told me that I had used mixed formatting for my “Normal” paragraph style, and it was causing some text to overlap or get crunched. Now, I don’t want to imply that the esteemed reviewer didn’t see some sort of text artifact, but there was no such faulty formatting in my document.

I considered my options. I have loathed Microsoft for decades, more because of working with their shoddy products than in spite of it. I do not own Microsoft Word, and I will not if I can at all help it. However, it’s possible that LibreOffice formats .DOC files differently than the dinosaur of Redmond does. I began consulting DuckDuckGo for answers and I found that the Smashwords approval process is referred to as the Meatgrinder. Great! My next search was for “alternative to Smashwords”.

And so, in the words of the Teacher, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (ESV) I found that Lulu has ebook distribution.

Lulu takes me back to that time before Createspace when my daughter and I tried to publish the novel that shall not be named. We submitted our PDF to Lulu and received an entertaining collection of copies filled with what my wife termed “Chinese”. It was gibberish characters from some flaw in the Lulu PDF engine, and resulted in several useless copies of the book. Combined with Lulu’s lack of free shipping (whereas, with Amazon and Prime we could get free shipping) I turned my back on Lulu, and seldom thought of it again.

Now, in my need for a digital publishing solution, I approached Lulu again. I found that I could submit my ebook in DOC, docx, ePub, and ODT(!). Wow, a modern file format!

To be fair, Lulu doesn’t have as wide a distribution as Smashwords does, but it does seem to get to the big retailers. I can’t comment on how many sales I might miss out on due to not using Smashwords’ distribution to some websites I haven’t heard of before.

I went ahead and modified my DOC that I had uploaded to Smashwords (changed `Smashwords Edition` to `Lulu Edition` and uploaded it to Lulu. To my disappointment, it was rejected. To my great glee, Lulu notified me within minutes, and gave clear instructions as to how to fix it. I ended up moving to an ODT and uploaded again. Again within minutes, I had the go-ahead, although now, I found a problem with the converted file. Back I went to LibreOffice and touched it up, uploading and getting feedback from Lulu within minutes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have immediate publishing joy with Lulu, either. Even after uploading a complete ePub I got some cryptic errors (although more complete information than what I was getting from Smashwords.) Dutiful searching through similar issues was unable to resolve the problem. I decided I would submit a docx instead. I went around this mulberry bush more than a few times, and finally decided that I would take my now “nuked” DOC back to Smashwords.

While it wasn’t as quick as my feedback from Lulu, the “nuked” DOC passed the Meatgrinder, and my ebook is now available through their Premium service.

What’s my lesson in all of this? I think, firstly, that competition is good for competitors and for consumers. Smashwords and Lulu do things differently, and although I eventually published with Smashwords, Lulu’s process was very attractive. It may also teach me to be a little more humble about my computer knowledge, since, apparently, there was something wrong with the DOC when I first submitted it to Smashwords. While it would be nice if they accepted more modern formats, it eventually worked. Finally, it’s a shame that none of these options fully accounts for the metadata possibilities of ebooks. Editing the ebook version in Calibre and Sigil was a lot of fun, but it was frustrating that even Lulu didn’t accept their output. (In the midst of all of this, I also created an account with Draft2Digital, and I may have to try them out further for my next book.)

Oh, there is one more lesson. It’s not always wise to start a rant before the end of the story. You can buy my ebook on Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/724870

(Oh, but don’t buy it there if you bought the paperback. I’m working with Amazon Matchbook to give you the ebook for free if you buy the paperback!)

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Why?

This is an incredibly good question. My writing is mostly characterized by long lapses when I write nothing at all. How, then, can a Follis Wood blog be worth writing, let alone reading? Well, I’m afraid I have no answers, but if you’ll accompany me in this adventure, we’ll perhaps discover them together. I hope to have information about my upcoming novel, Eris – A Tale of the Nether, with perhaps some excerpts, etc. I may also be persuaded by my incredible daughter to write some book reviews.

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