Daily Archives: January 4, 2012

The Mac Air as a Tool For Writing

The “Office Desk: 2012” post precipitated a rash of e-mails from writers wondering how I like the Mac Air as a writing tool. Well, I’ve had the thing now for about five months, which is a sufficiently long time to live with a computer, and I’ve also written quite a lot on it by this point. So here are my thoughts on it as a machine for creativity.

First, I think in a general sense the Mac Air is probably the best single computer that I’ve ever owned. This not the same as the “most powerful” or “best featured” — in either case it’s not, although for writing and for most of the things I do with a computer, it does perfectly well. It’s the best computer I’ve owned because everything works both extremely well, and largely intuitively. What this means is that the computer itself gets out of my way so I can do the things I want to do with the computer.

I realize that for some (not all) Apple fans this is almost anathema — part of the reason to have a Mac Air is to be seen having the Mac Air — but honestly, I could not give the first shit about that. I want the thing to work for me, because I have work I need to do. The Mac Air, simply put, lets me do that.

A very good example of this is the computer’s trackpad. One of the two major reasons that I have been resistant to having a laptop be a primary computer is that I generally don’t consider trackpads to be an adequate replacement for a mouse; they’re clunky and obnoxious and even the later generations of multitouch trackpads were just a pain in the ass. Every time I use a trackpad I am aware I’m using a trackpad — which means that I’m thrown out of the creative flow I’m in to deal with the machine I’m using.

I don’t have that problem with the Mac trackpad, and indeed I’ve found it so functional that for the large majority of tasks, I find it easier to use than a mouse. I was fully expecting to use one my USB mice with the Mac Air when I got it; after a day of using the trackpad I never thought of attaching a mouse again. When I use a laptop other than the Mac Air now I am reminded how aggravating trackpads generally are. It shouldn’t be that difficult for every other computer maker in the world to make a good trackpad. I’m not sure why there’s still a problem.

Beyond that other aspects of the form factor work for me. The screen (I have the 13-inch version) is sufficiently large/high enough resolution that I don’t feel visually cramped, but at the same time the whole package is sufficiently small and light that I don’t have to think about whether or not I should take it into another room (or house, or country) with me. Both of these things also encourage work. The keyboard is fine; not my absolute favorite of all time, but fine, and more to the point not distracting. I do love that it is backlit. Also, I do recommend remembering to take frequent breaks to let your wrists rest. Its battery lasts sufficiently long that when I’m at the airport I don’t feel I have to embark on a Quest for Outlets.

Software-wise the Mac has a plethora of writing options which range from extremely simple (including TextEdit) to insanely complicated (Microsoft Word and, in a different way, current writer darling Scrivener). For me, the vast majority of my writing gets done on three word processors: Word (I use almost none of the bells and whistles), Google Docs and WordPress. To be honest my favorite is WordPress, when I have it on the tool on full screen, on a browser that is also on full screen; I get a white screen with a perfectly proportioned column of text down the middle, and it’s easy to write and not get distracted. Google Docs offers a similar option. Both of these do have a problem in that if you’re offline, you’re kind of screwed when it comes to saving work. Word for Mac offers a full screen option but I find it esthetically unpleasing, which is unfortunate because I otherwise like it just fine. Other writers swear by their own particular favorites (as noted, Scrivener has a particularly fervent fan base; I find the software thoroughly perplexing myself) but the point is you have options.

My Mac Air has the current iteration of the Mac OS (OSX Lion) and one thing I very much like about it is the ability to expand programs into full screen in their own space, so you can focus on that one program, and then “swipe” to get other programs or back to the main desktop. This option helps me from being distracted, which is key because I am easily distracted. There are other things I like less about Lion, but this may be more about me being used to Windows than anything else.

One major issue for writers is that the Mac Air is not cheap, especially relative to other laptops you can get, many of which have more power and features, if in a slightly chunkier package. You’ll have to ask yourself whether the form factor, et cetera is worth the price premium. And it may not be — it wasn’t an issue for me until recently. My previous laptops were from Toshiba and Asus, and I found them to be perfectly fine in a general sense. I don’t advise putting yourself into a financial vise to pay for a laptop. That’s silly.

That said, in the “ultrabook” category (i.e., thin, light computers with solid state hard drives), the Mac Airs are not outrageously priced relative to other computers in the category. If you’re going to look at ultrabooks, I’m going to go ahead and say that the Mac Air is probably where you should establish your baseline before you look at other models.

So, in sum: the Mac Air is a fine and useful computer, which is easy and mostly pleasurable to write on. I highly recommend it for writers.

Iowa Thoughts In Haiku

Because why not.

Romney:

Eight votes? Wow, really?
You beat a squirrely has-been
By eight votes? Damn, son.

Santorum:

I think you should know
Every single Democrat
Is rooting for you.

Paul:

If you would just run
As a Libertarian
Obama would grin.

Gingrich:

GINGRICH NOW ANGRY
GINGRICH NOW HURT ROMNEY BAD
JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE

Bachmann:

Miss you when you’re gone?
Hold on a sec, checking now -
Nope! Not in the least!

Perry:

Dude. It’s so over.
South Carolina isn’t
Going to save you.

Huntsman:

Less than one percent
And you say you’re still in it?
Such optimism!

NewBookIn Twitter Feed Resuming

I took a holiday break from the NewBookIn Twitter feed, on which I noted what new and exciting books had arrived on my doorstep, but now that the holidays are behind us and my life is a little less hectic, I’ve started it up again. You’ll find the updates in the sidebar (under “Today’s Books Sent to Scalzi”) or you can follow the Twitter account here. Today there’ll be several updates (on the half hour, though 7pm Eastern) and then pretty much hourly during the week day over the next couple of days as I catch up on backlog. There will be lots of book ideas there for you, I promise. Enjoy.

The Big Idea: Stephen Blackmoore

Author Stephen Blackmoore was on a mission with his novel City of the Lost: To tell a gritty, hard-boiled thriller of a story in a way that wasn’t like a 70s detective TV show. And you ask, well, okay, but what does a 70s crime detective show have to do with anything to begin with? As it turns out, and as this Big Idea will show, quite a lot.

STEPHEN BLACKMOORE:

Back in the early 70′s, when television was king, there was a show called Mannix, about an L.A. private eye who would get beaten, clubbed, beaten, shot, beaten, shot some more and occasionally beaten.

This never killed him, of course. Be an awful short series if it did. Nor did it give him a concussion, shock, broken bones, internal hemorrhaging, ruptured organs, nerve damage. You get the idea.

In fact, you’d pretty much see him at the end of every episode with one arm around a girl and the other in a sling.

Even when he got shot with an elephant gun.

Have you ever seen an elephant gun? I haven’t. The closest I’ve come is a .375 Weatherby that’s designed to take down things like water buffalo. I heard a story about a cop who got hit in the chest with something similar while wearing a bulletproof vest. The vest held, surprisingly enough, but the round punched it halfway through his body. At the autopsy they found that the shock waves from the impact had blown out all the blood vessels in his brain.

But not Mannix. No sirree, at the end of the episode he’s standing there with that shit-eating grin on his face and a blonde in his arms.

I like crime fiction, noir in particular. The kinds of stories where even if somebody wins, everybody loses. I’m not a big fan of happy endings or being kind to characters. I shoot them, stab them, break their noses. But there’s a limit to the kind of punishment I can put somebody through without seriously stretching plausibility. Nobody buys Mannix, if they ever did. They know you can’t shoot somebody through the head and have him shrug it off.

But I really wanted to write a story where I could do that.

In City of the Lost Joe Sunday is a professional leg-breaker. He’s the guy you don’t want to see when you owe somebody money. He knows those places in the desert where nobody’s going to find you but the coyotes and that the best way to get somebody to talk is with a pair of bolt-cutters and a Zippo. If you see him coming don’t bother running because you’re just going to die tired.

Then he gets murdered and brought back from the dead. Not on purpose. He’s just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody in their right mind would want to raise him from the dead. He’s already a monster. That’s like sticking your rabid pit bull into the Pet Sematary.

It’s funny how once you embrace the impossible a whole slew of gonzo shit becomes plausible. Add zombies and magic and you can get away with a lot. Like thugs you keep coming even after you pump them full of bullets.

The great thing about writing Sunday wasn’t just that I could shoot him, break his bones, run him over, throw him off a building and damn near chew his head off, but that he’s the type of guy who might actually find himself in those kinds of situations. He’s a lowlife. People are trying to kill him all the time. When that doesn’t stick, they just try harder.

As big ideas go it’s really not that big. I wanted to write a book that was pulpy, violent, and over the top where I could make my protagonist’s life really goddamn miserable. Over and over and over again.

That or get out some pent up aggression. I’m still on the fence with that one.

Either way I had fun writing it. Hopefully people will have fun reading it.

—-

City of the Lost: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Gut Reaction to the 2012 Science Fiction Film Slate

To start off the new year at FilmCritic.com, I’m looking at some of the prominent science fiction films of the now-current year and offering my thoughts on them, based on what I know at the moment, which is usually not much: Trailers, plot synopses and cast lists. In other words, just like anyone else. Come find out what my gut thinks! And then add your own gut rumblings in the comments.