9 February, 2003

So, I got a new computer last week. Cheapest thing I could find. Just wait until you hear this. You're going to laugh. It is a Celeron 1.7 GHz machine with 256 MB RAM and a 40 GB Hard Drive. Yeah, I know, in the world of modern computing, that is pretty pathetic. It doesn't even have a graphics card. Just whatever is integrated on the motherboard. Same with the sound. But, don't laugh yet. I mean you haven't heard what I had been using. Up until last week, I had been using a four year old P2-266 MHz computer with 64 MB RAM and a 4 GB HD. It was actually holding-up pretty good. I was happy.

I blame Microsoft. See, my old computer had this problem. Round about every year and a half, it would start to get chunky. It would get sluggish and sloppy until it finally got to the point where I would have to reinstall the operating system. Real annoying that. What with making sure everything was properly backed-up. Flashing the hard disk. Reinstalling everything. It was a pain.

The reason I blame Microsoft is that they stopped supporting Windows 98, which means I wouldn't be able to properly reinstall the operating system this time. I really started to notice the problems with my old P2-266 as far back as October or November. It was starting to get sluggish. Taking longer and longer just to boot. Round about December, I could no longer ignore the fact that it was taking upwards of ten seconds just to open a window. That is scary. I mean it's like never knowing if the damn thing is on the verge of a crash. It was never knowing if it would recover this time.

I had to reinstall so I had to make a decision. Should I just reinstall the OS and limp along with an unpatched version of Windows 98 or should I upgrade? I couldn't just upgrade the operating system. Windows XP needs 128 MB RAM just to work, right?

Oh, and here is a total aside. Why XP? Well, I'll tell you why. During my short but glorious tenure as a technical writer, I learned about this newfangled way of going about writing software called Extreme Programming. XP for short. So, XP is all the rage among the programming set. You may remember the roasting it got from Dilbert. Previously, he had made fun of the dead fish skeleton design philosophy, but this time it was extreme programming. Anyway, lots of people are all hot for XP so it has lead to Microsoft dropping the year in the name convention they had been using in favor of something a little more extreme. It is all the rage.

And, this is why we have Windows Extreme Programming or Windows XP.

Anyway, there was no way in hell that my poor old P2-266 was going to be able to handle Windows XP, which should probably stand for extreme system requirements, but I am sure that joke has been made before. My poor old computer only had 64 MB RAM. Half of XP's minimum system requirements. So, I gave a lot of thought to the whole reinstall 98 and just limp along idea, and then, I discovered a really cheap computer sale. I snuck in at just the right time. I'm not even going to tell you how little it cost. A lot of software goes for more than I paid for my new computer.

So, I thought I had it made in the shade. New computer. Hyperspeed when compared to my old one. Illustrator kind of clunked along all the time on the P2-266, which is another reason why I got so frustrated with String Finger Theatre. I mean I'm not running a P4-3.0 GHz monstrosity here, but 1.7 GHz is pretty fucking fast if you ask me.

So, let me tell you about trying to set-up my cheap-ass computer. First off, I had to get my files transferred. This proved to be a more interesting problem than it sounds. My two computers are not overly compatible. The P2-266 has an internal 100 MB Zip Drive and a 1.2 MB Floppy Drive. The new computer does not have a Zip Drive; however, it does have a network card and a CD-RW drive. Neither of which do me any good since the P2-266 does not have a network card or a CD-RW. I had to put all my files on zip disks, take them to a computer with a zip drive and a CD-R drive, and then burn the files to a CD. Yeah, easy, I know. I mean there probably was a way to sling a USB cable between the two computers and transfer files, but I sure don't know how. Besides, that kind of file swapping would have gotten really interesting since I only have the one monitor. It's one of the ways I saved money. I didn't buy a new monitor.

Okay, so the files are transferred. Everything good, right? Well, almost. Now, I discover that my copy of Acrobat Distiller is so old it only comes with PS Drivers for Windows 98 & NT 4.0, which means I can't make PDF files. Adobe ATM Lite also refuses to install. So, I get the updates, make a test PDF file, and the fonts don't come-out. That's weird. It worked on my old system. So, I go through half-a-dozen test, trying this and that, figuring out when it will and won't embed the fonts, and I'm scratching my head. Finally, after about four hours, I discover that the new Acrobat Distiller is only bothering to look in the default Windows XP Font directory. It doesn't seem to realize that the new version of ATM Lite is sticking the PS fonts someplace else.

Okay, got that sorted-out. And, as another aside, it is really amazing how fast this new computer generates PDF files. I mean my old computer would take several minutes to generate a file. The new one? Bamm! It is done.

Oh, yeah, about the time I get the PS Driver/ATM Lite/Font location business sorted-out is when I learn that Windows XP doesn't need ATM Lite to help with PS Fonts. What a time to learn I never needed to install something. I could have used Windows XP's font utility. All the fonts would have been stored in the default location, and I never would have spent hours and hours trying to figure out why my PDF files were missing fonts.

Oh, wait, I forgot. Somewhere amidst all of this I totally cussed-out Music Match Jukebox. No, seriously, I did. I can't remember the last time I got so mad at a stupid program. Anyway, it's too embarrassing to go into any detail.

Okay, what else happened? Oh, right, Illustrator wouldn't install. It kept rejecting the serial number. That totally freaked me out. I mean it didn't say the serial number was bogus. It uses one of these modern installation programs so you can't push the next button until you enter a valid serial number. Well, it wouldn't give me the next button. I spent hours trying to work that one out. Went to the Adobe website. It's best suggestion was that I should call Adobe in the morning.

So, I get up the next morning, figuring I would give it one more go before I get really fucking belligerent with some poor sap at Adobe customer service. So, I'm looking at the enter serial number page, and I think about the three fields I see. There is a text box for my name, business name, and Illustrator serial number, and I wonder if the problem is the lack of a business name. I hadn't bothered to enter one. A business name is totally optional. Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop and Pagemaker had not required one. The Illustrator install program requires a business name? That would be totally stupid. I mean the last time I heard of an installation program being that stupid was twenty years ago when some dumb-ass program wanted to know the density of the floppy disks that it was going to install the program from. I mean shouldn't the stupid program know what type of media it is going to install from? It would be like sticking the CD in the drive and having the install program ask if it should install itself from the CD. Well, yeah, it's not like I've got you up my ass or something. So, after hours and hours of frustration with the Adobe Illustrator installation utility, I finally type a character into the business name field, and kablamo! the idiotic next button becomes active.

Okay, Adobe Illustrator installed. Everybody is happy, but wait, there is more. I turn-on Illustrator, open-up an advertisement for The Magic Flute that I've been working on, and discover there are fonts missing. It turns out that one of the cool fonts I used in the ad was a True Type font installed only on my old computer, which means I had to dig the P2-266 out of its box, hook it all back up, turn it on, wait five minutes while it boots, copy the font to a floppy, turn the computer off, hook the new computer back up, turn it on, insert the floppy, copy the font, and finally install it. No sweat.

So, anyway, the new computer has been stable all day. I finished the advertisement and sent it off to Locus Magazine, and now I'm finishing up a journal entry. Maybe, starting tomorrow I might actually get back to work on The Etymology of Fire.

Oh, yeah, and next weekend is DunDraCon where I will be giving my little seminar on self-publishing for the third year in a row. It should be fun.

17 February, 2003

As you may have noticed, a new feature has been added to the main page. Kind of a lark. Meant to be funny, and it will stay on the main page as long as it continues to amuse me. I am, of course, referring to the word count feature. That's right. A way to mark my progress with the prequel to The Magic Flute. The idea first started to tickle my fancy back when I did that journal entry where I added-up all the pages and words for the various books, and I thought why not? Any random person can just check-out my main page and see my progress. This may also cut down on the number of journal entries where I say something to the effect of well, I made a little more progress on the book. Now, all you have to do is look. Oh, and, I stuck The Magic Flute in there as a reference. I mean it doesn't mean that much if you just have these numbers sitting there and occasionally going up. This way there is something to compare against. I would have used Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the reference work, but I couldn't find a word/page count of the book. I am sure it is out there somewhere. It's not like I looked very hard. It was just a passing fancy after all. Just about everybody has seen that whopper, and I hear the next Harry Potter book is going to be even longer.

Anyway, I know that the page count for The Magic Flute does not match the published version of the book. This is because the published version uses a nine-point typeface because I was trying to save money, and I have made all the PDF files with an eleven-point type. Someday, I hope to need to print more copies of the book, and on that day, I will use the eleven-point type version.

Progress does continue on The Etymology of Fire, and I am well on my way to having a prequel that is just as long as the first book. Actually, that isn't quite how to say it since the first version of The Etymology of Fire was written before The Magic Flute so it would be more accurate to call The Magic Flute the sequel, but I'm not going to make things that complicated. I'm sure people have enough trouble following me when I bounce back-and-forth between calling it The Etymology of Fire and calling it the prequel.

The Etymology of Fire is approximately half the length of The Magic Flute, which sounds about right since I am approximately half-way through writing it. Actually, I find the whole idea of The Etymology of Fire being the same length as The Magic Flute kind of disturbing since The Etymology of Fire is supposed to be this lighthearted romp of a book and really isn't supposed to be very long. Oh, well.

Anyway, I've reached one of the most important sections of the novel — the first meeting between Tahrl, Armada & Alexander and the dragon Moonlight. This moment is significant not just in the current story but also because it is one of the few events that actually gets mentioned in The Magic Flute. In fact, it gets mentioned more than once so I wanted to make sure I didn't screw it up.

So, this is one of the few times I've actually thought about breaking my one rule for the rewrite. I wanted to see if I could do the whole revision of the prequel to The Magic Flute without looking at the previous draft, but this scene where they meet Moonlight is just so important I actually considered digging out my copy of the previous draft and reading it over. So far, I have resisted. From what I can remember, the scene was pretty daft. They stand around talking, and Moonlight gives them all these really stupid names and titles. It's embarrassing just to remember it. Oh, well, the new version of the scene has been quite interesting so far. We shall see how it goes.

22 February, 2003

This has been a good week for progress on both The Etymology of Fire and String Finger Theatre. Of course, most of the writing on The Etymology of Fire has been taking place after midnight, which is just a little frustrating, but this is what happens when you have to pay rent. You work days and give over all your nights to trying to accomplish something. I get home from work, and it isn't as if I can just magically sit down and start churning out something useful. There is this whole recovery period that happens after work, and then there are little things like food to think about. Of course, the fact that I then try to write, keeping me up past midnight, contributes to the length of the recovery time needed when I get home from work. Now, what would happen with The Magic Flute is that I would get home from work and immediately fall asleep. I would then get-up an hour or two later and start puttering around looking for food and whatnot. I'm not entirely sure why that isn't happening this time. I don't try to analyze it too much.

Anyway, the only reason it matters is because it gets frustrating. It really is frustrating trying to write after midnight because I always feel half-asleep, and I worry that I'm not able to concentrate enough on the work. I only hope the writing doesn't suck too much, but I try to look at it from the other side. Maybe being less than wholly awake will make the writing a little more surreal and interesting. I like to think like that instead of worrying if the whole thing just sucks. I mean I still look at stuff and think it is wretched. Take the last journal entry as an example. I was looking back over it, and I am convinced that it is a wretchedly stilted and blocky piece of writing. If I was trying to evaluate my work and only had that to go on, I would think that I couldn't write to save my life. The last journal entry had been written somewhere around 1 AM if you are wondering why I am bitching about its sucky-hood so much.

Anyway, I'm more happy than not with progress on The Etymology of Fire. The big meet-and-greet with Moonlight has gone off pretty well. It is very different from how it went in the old version. My only concern is that Alexander has taken the whole thing a little harder than I would have expected. I'm not going to go into detail here. If you read The Magic Flute, you'll have an idea of what I'm referring to. A lot of what I do like about the scene is that I excised all the stilted talk from the previous version. They had stood around giving each other titles and assorted bullshit like that, but it's all gone now. Refreshing.

The scene is also important because it marks a big turning point for our poor hero Tahrl. He's been something of a sourpuss for the first half of the book, and I've been thinking that this has really got to stop. I mean I can understand him mopping around because of how the book starts, but damn if I don't want to just smack him around a bit and tell him to snap out of it. All through the first two chapters of the rewrite, I kept expecting him to cheer-up. Okay, now he's over it. No? Okay, now he is going to be all gung-ho and excited. No? Damn, he's still in a funk. Okay, now? Damn. Now? Damn! Would somebody please punch him on the nose! What? Armada already did? Oh, yeah, right, that's one of the reasons his funk has been extended.

But, I think I've finally beaten the Tahrl funk. It's something I was hoping would happen with the introduction of Moonlight. Tahrl is taking charge, and I think he'll be running the show for the rest of the book rather than just along for the ride and making a pest of himself. I just hope it doesn't happen at the expense of Alexander turning into a poop-head. That's the only thing I'm worried about right now. Okay, there is really a lot of shit I'm worried about, but you know what I mean.

Then, there is String Finger Theatre. One of the things that has been almost exciting about this week is that I've been working on both The Etymology of Fire and episode two of String Finger Theatre. On the same night, too. I draw a comic sometime after dinner and usually with the television on in the background. Don't know why the thing is on. It just is. And, then at some random point really late that night usually after 11 PM, I start scribbling some stuff for The Etymology of Fire. Of course, it meant that getting up for work each morning became harder and harder as the week dragged on.

But, the plot development moment struck this week for episode two. That is the moment where the kind of vague ideas I have had for where this monkey is going suddenly whoosh out with details. I mean it wasn't as if I didn't have ideas, and I had gotten a whole bunch of comics written. It is just that I was starting to worry about where this puppy was going. All the middle ground was really vague and growing steadily worse. I was drawing comics without the faintest idea how it was going to end. I mean I know where the episode's story is going to end. I just wouldn't know what was going to happen from panel to panel, and things were starting to careen off in directions I really wasn't sure I wanted them to go.

So, I was really happy when the whoosh happened. It actually made me late for work. No, seriously, I was freaked. The whoosh happened in the morning as I was getting ready for work, and I knew that if I didn't scribble some notes I wouldn't remember a bit of it by the time I got home. Yes, my job is that kind of brain drain. I think I mentioned before that I'm terrified I could still turn into the protagonist from The Faire Folk of Gideon. Well, I mean the main character from The Faire Folk of Gideon is not based on me, but his for lack of a better word damage is one of my fears. Without really trying to explain, I'll just say the fear is of becoming brain-dead and loosing sight of anything that you enjoy. Actually, that is kind of a recurring theme for me. Just look at The Walking Brain-Dead, Requiem for the Merimont, and The Faire Folk of Gideon, of course. So, anyway, after I was all ready to go to work, I sat myself down and wrote out my thoughts for where episode two of String Finger Theatre is going. Made me late for work but I don't care.

The plan for episode two is still to wait until I have finished the whole sequence on pencil and paper before I start posting it to the website. I do not know how long this will take. I'm not going to try and fight to finish it. I definitely don't want String Finger Theatre taking time away from The Etymology of Fire. Still, I drew comic number one-hundred and then one-hundred and one the other time, which is really kind of cool. I've drawn one-hundred strips, and I can't draw.

copyright © 2003 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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