Tag Archives: technology

Technology #upgrade for when I #amwriting

Square Card Reader 1Two months ago, I got a new thingamajig for writing. I was actually upgrading the phone so that I could get a Square Card Reader to take credit card payments at book fairs. But when we walked in the door at the phone store our wireless provider made us a deal we couldn’t refuse: a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch tablet for just .99 cents, to go with my fine new Galaxy s5 phone.

Technically my upgrade was “free,” and .99 cents seemed like a deal.

So of course I leaped on it. But then I had to get the heavy-duty Otterboxes to protect both the tablet($39.99)  and the phone ($29.99) The Otterboxes would have been cheaper at Amazon.

Square Card ReaderI also got the Square Card Reader while I was there, ($9.99)and well worth the price. I can now accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover–or cash.

And of course, we had to upgrade the wireless plan to accommodate the new technology, so what with a nickel here and a dime there, we were beyond broke when we walked out of there, but we were technologically up-to-date.

We couldn’t afford to pay attention at that point, but on  the plus side,  I had this wonderful tablet. It’s an awesome way  to get email and check Facebook for the onslaught of grumpy cat memes.  All my reading apps are on there now, Kindle and Nook–so I can read any book in beautiful, clear color.

Or I can play Majong in bed instead of reading.

Acer-Aspire-One-AOD257-4I’ve been complaining about my Acer laptop for a year now, but I don’t have the funds to replace it. The wretched thing is a small, red boat-anchor. It takes an hour to load anything. I just need five or six hundred dollars to replace it with a better brand, which isn’t going to happen soon.

My new tablet’s charge lasts about 8 hours, and the it only weighs a little more than the cell phone I went to upgrade in the first place. It travels well in my purse, and so does the little external keyboard.

The tablet comes with a touchscreen keyboard, of course, but it isn’t very useful for an ungraceful typist like me, and I couldn’t see myself writing a book using one. Some people do, or so I hear.

Tablet and keyboardBUT, with a few accessories, my little tablet has become a great, if limited, word-processor. First of all, the top of the Otterbox converts to an easel for it, so it sits up at the perfect angle.

With the addition of the Bluetooth keyboard I can easily key anything with as much accuracy and speed as ever. It will be excellent for write-ins.

There is a reason it took me two months to get this circus on the road.

When I first got the tablet it came with a free word-processing app that had glowing reviews, but which I quite honestly thought sucked, Hancom Office. This app might work well enough for someone else, but it was useless to me.

It looks just like WORD, and seems to have most of the tools, but it wouldn’t connect to Dropbox or Google Drive.

Oh, I could do all the writing I wanted, and when I saved it,  it seemed to have been saved just fine. But the next time I opened that document, it had NOT been saved. Hours of work down the tubes, because I couldn’t make the darn thing save a document that had been edited. Nothing I edited and saved was actually saved.

I went to the internet to find a solution. The internet was rife with all sorts of posts touting how awesome a product it is compared to WORD, but apparently no one has that issue, so there were no solutions.

So, I thought it was just me, and I kept trying to figure out what the problem was.

Maybe it was just me, but  after two months of trying unsuccessfully to make that app work, I nearly gave up, thinking perhaps the tablet just wasn’t a good fit for me. On a whim, I went looking for Microsoft apps. I am really pleased with what I found.

SO, yes, in order to make this amazing little beast useful for what I need it for, I did have to buy some apps and get an external keyboard.

Costs to get Tablet up and running

Despite accidentally purchasing one item from Google Play that shows up on my Paypal account but I can’t figure out and don’t know what it is so I can’t return it, the Office Suite 8 was amazingly cheap as compared to the large cash outlay for my desktop programs. It is the shell for the Word, PowerPoint, and Excel programs, which cost nothing. Maybe you can get these apps for less elsewhere, but I just wanted to get it done so I could use it.

Now I can access my dropbox files, and work in any environment–a huge plus when I am on the road so much.

MajongFor me, this will not come near replacing my HP desktop. The screen is too small for my elderly eyes. Even with the extra font pack, the WORD app is limited in what it can do as compared to the full desktop program, so I don’t see me trying to edit or format a book–the little app is not appropriate for that, although I hear that it can be done. It doesn’t really have a good spell-check, and cutting and pasting without a mouse is a bit dicey. I’ll have to remember my keyboard shortcuts for that.

But I do like the way I can write anywhere in the house or on the back porch, or at a Starbucks, with ease, and on a machine that doesn’t randomly freeze up on me.

Or I can play Majong.

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World Building part 4: Questions to consider when creating a society

Thomas Cole, 1836: the Course of Empire: the Consummation

Thomas Cole, 1836: the Course of Empire: the Consummation

In speculative fiction, we often have one culture that is more advanced in contrast to the neighboring, somewhat more primitive cultures. Each of these societies have unique cultures, and if you know the culture of your characters’ homeland, you understand your characters and why they think the way they do.

But what is a society formed of? Initially, people come together and form  small communities, or tribes,  for protection. They find it’s a good way to consolidate more consistent sources of food and resources. With adequate food and shelter, people live longer and are generally healthier. Out of a need to get along with each other, they develop certain commonly agreed upon rules-of-the-road for sharing that wealth. Eventually these common rules become a complex social structure. As life becomes easier for the population in general, other amenities of civilization begin to be a part of their culture.

I write in many different worlds with widely varying levels of technology and forms of government. When I first began writing I knew it was important to know what the social structure was in each fantasy world, so I made a list of questions to consider when I begin constructing a new society. I was new at this, so please bear with the randomness of the order in which these things are listed:

  1. The butter churnSocial Organization: Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has the wealth? are there
  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the poorest class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?
  1. Language, the written word, and accounting: Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society, because it determines how knowledge is passed on. Low-tech generally equals an oral tradition.
  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?
  • How is monetary wealth calculated?
  • Do they use coins? What is their monetary system? If you are inventing it, keep it simple. (I generally use gold,  divided into tens: 10 coppers=a silver/ 10 silvers=a gold)
  1. Franz Defregger, 1921: Auf der Alm

    Franz Defregger, 1921: Auf der Alm

    Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated? How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  1. Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? If it is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a key part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals, and know how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.
  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood
  • Do people want to join the priesthood or do they fear it?
  • How is the priesthood trained?
  1. Jahn Ekenæs, 1908: Family in a Norwegian fjord landscape

    Jahn Ekenæs, 1908: Family in a Norwegian fjord landscape

    Level of Technology: What tools and amenities does this society have available to them? What about transport?

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman  metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • modern day?
  • Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  • How do we get around and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?
  1. Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:
  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is is a clan-based society?
  • Warlord, President, or King/Queen?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?
  1. Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior and how are criminals treated?
  1. Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?
  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
  1. Feat of the grenadier of leib-guards Finnish regiment Leontiy Korennoy in the battle of Leipzig at 1813

    Feat of the grenadier of leib-guards Finnish regiment Leontiy Korennoy in the battle of Leipzig at 1813

    Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what  their level of technology is. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It was initially meant to be a jumping off point, just a short list of things for me to ponder, but I thought I would share it with you today. Considering this little list of ideas always leads to my realizing a kajillion other rather large concepts that  combine to make up  a civilization. You are welcome to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

What I originally did was to write the whole story of the community my protagonist grew up in, a word-picture of about 5000 words, and then I set it aside, to use as reference material. This is the method I still use today.

When you have cemented the society in your mind,  the world your characters inhabit will flow naturally and your protagonists will fit into it organically. Their society will be visually real to the reader, even if the world it evokes in their minds isn’t exactly your vision of it. You will have done your job, by giving them a solid framework to imagine the story around.

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It’s smart and clickable!

MH900314342As you know I have been working on the nuts-and-bolts end of the indie publishing business for a while now, but not really long in terms of my career. I only dove into this in 2011, and in the last two years of sometimes floundering I’ve picked up a few useful tricks.  One of the most useful in terms of a finished manuscript is how to create a table of contents for your eBook that is “clickable”, a Smart TOC.

When I read an e-book I really like it when I can easily navigate within the ms by using the hyperlinks embedded in the table of contents. This is a “Smart TOC” and is very easy to create when you are formatting your ms for publication.

First make your table of contents. The one I am using for this is an old file for the original version of Billy’s Revenge, so ignore the page numbers. I didn’t know that page numbers are like prisoners—they just weigh you down! 

Your print manuscript will most likely not have a TOC as most novels don’t waste precious pages on such things. Technical manuals and textbooks must include a TOC, but every page you can do without when publishing your novel in paper form will keep the final cost down and make your paperback more affordable for your prospective reader. Very few people will pay $18.99 for a book by an unknown author.

prnt scrn SMART TOC 1

The first thing you want to do is create a bookmark.  First highlight the words  “Table of Contents” and then go to your ‘Insert’ tab.  Click on ‘Bookmark’ in that ribbon. Type in the words ref_TOC

Then click “Add”.  In every ms it is important to name the Table of Contents bookmark exactly that, including the underscore, because that’s what Smashwords looks for and it is simply a good practice to have a uniform system for naming files.  See the next picture for how it will look and ignore the page numbers:

prnt scrn SMART TOC 2

Now it’s time to bookmark  the prologue. Scroll down to your prologue and do it exactly the same way as you bookmarked the TOC, but for this ms let’s name it BR_prologue. You will name yours with your ms initials and the word prologue. If you have no prologue, skip this step.  See the picture below:

prnt scrn SMART TOC 3

As long as you are there, with the chapter title highlighted, click “insert Hyperlink” on the ribbon. On the left, you want to ‘Link to:’  “Place in this Document”.  That will bring up your bookmarks. Select ‘ref_TOC’  and click OK.  This will turn your heading blue, which is called a ‘hyperlinky’. Press control and click on the link. it will take you back to the table of contents. Once you have used the hyperlinky it will turn purple. How cool is that! This is how that screen looks:

prnt scrn SMART TOC 4

Now that you are back at the Table of Contents, highlight “Prologue and click “insert Hyperlink” on the ribbon. On the left, you want to ‘Link to:’  “Place in this Document”. That will bring up your bookmarks. Select ‘BR_prologue’  and click OK.  That will turn it blue. Press control and click on the link. it will take you back to the heading of your prologue.

Do this for the entire table of contents, always remembering to link your chapter heading back to “ref_TOC”, and test each link as you go.  Four more pictures just to help you remember:

prnt scrn SMART TOC 5

prnt scrn SMART TOC 6

prnt scrn SMART TOC 7

prnt scrn SMART TOC 8

I hope this helps you in formatting your eBook manuscript. I just redid all my books so that they have Smart TOCs and will be building the TOC into my future manuscripts as I go.  This is an incredibly useful too to help you navigate within any long manuscript, and although I had used book marks before in the course of my work, I didn’t realize that the fancy TOCs I admired so in other people’s e-books was such a simple thing.

But that’s the way it always goes–things that seem like they should be hard are often the most simple, while something that should be easy turns into a drama of epic proportions.

Here’s to less drama and more simplicity! Learning how to format an e-book isn’t really that hard, and the wonderful people at both Smashwords and at Amazon have a lot of information freely available to you. Remember, as an indie, you are your own publisher, and what you put out there has to be the best you can make it.

Making use of the free information that is out there on the internet can only help you in this regard!

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