New tools: 2013 Chromebook Pixel and 4k monitor

At work, I’m nearing the end of my second year with a 15″ Macbook Pro. I love the high def screen enough that I feel a little pain even when I’m working on my dual (but standard def) 24″ monitors for my desktop workstation. It holds true at home too, where I do my writing. Up until yesterday I was using a Dell 13 Chromebook docked into a nice backlit Logitech keyboard, old-school Logitech Wingman trackball and a 29″ standard def monitor.

And when I undock that Dell 13? The screen size and resolution are more than a little painful. It’s rough. It’s a great little Chromebook, and has served me well for almost four years, but that Macbook Pro has spoiled me.

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to move to a 4k monitor for my home workstation, which was a pretty beefy Linux box running Xubuntu. The problem was that I didn’t want to go through the rigors of getting a 4k video card that would work with my system (bus issues) and then deal with what was less than stellar support for 4k on desktop Linux. At about that time, the wireless died in the system and after several hilariously frustrating attempts to get it working, I decided to just bag it and start docking my Chromebook.

It turned out to be a really good experience.

So, a couple of months ago, I started looking for a Chromebook that would capably drive a 4k monitor. There aren’t a lot. In fact, there is only one. The HP Chromebook 13. Reviews on it were mixed, and with the high def screen option, it was over $500. One of my friends told me that he’d bought one, didn’t like the build quality and returned it. He’s a maniac when it comes to devices, and I trust him. So the HP 13 was out.

The Samsung Chromebook Pro is coming out sometime soon, and it has a high def display. This same device-hungry friend as the Plus model and really likes it. I tried it. It’s fine. The Pro will cost around $600, and it pained me to pay that for a Chromebook.

Of course, the flagship of all Chromebooks is the Chromebook Pixel, Google’s Own Special Computer. There was a model made in 2013, and an update in 2015. They’re expensive ($1200+). Superior build quality. Amazing (backlit!) keyboards. High def screens.

Because I work at Google, I was hoping we had some kind of “buy the 2015 remainders because we don’t sell them any longer” program, but alas we don’t. I started digging around the internets, and learned that you can buy 2013 Chromebook Pixels, New-In-Box, for around $340. How are they still new? No idea. But they are.

I found a site (blinq.com) that carried them. They were a Google Trusted Store, and had a “return within 30 days even if you just don’t like it with no restock fee” policy, so it seemed about zero risk to order one.

So I did.

I’m now set up with a new 2013 Chromebook Pixel, driving a Samsung 4k display over the Pixel’s mini DisplayPort. I have the Pixel pushing somewhere between 1080p and 4k to the monitor, and it looks fantastic.

So if you’re in the market for a Chromebook and your top two requirements are high def display and backlit keyboard, this can be had (along with the superior build quality) for around $350 in the 2013 Chromebook Pixel!

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Category and possible cover change for LFBD

Even though LFBD is “Urban Fantasy” by the standard definition, when it comes to Amazon categories, it probably isn’t the best fit. I didn’t really discover this until I started working with Amazon’s marketing services and their Sponsored Product Ads. It really got me digging into their product hierarchy and look around at what others would see if they started at LFBD and browsed around. The top seller for almost the entire first page of “Urban Fantasy” on Amazon? Harry Potter.

Yep.

So, that’s not really somewhere you want to be. I started digging around and looking at the other books that people who had purchased LFBD had also purchased. I noticed that LFBD had a lot more in common with the books in the “Dark Fantasy” category than they did with Harry Potter. I changed the book’s category, and immediately sales picked up! That’s a good sign.

My quest right now is to tune things like ad content, categorization and the book’s landing page to actually start making money from the ads. The ads are generating consistent sales, but they’re not enough to cover the cost of the ads. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable business plan. However, as I’ve refined these things, I’ve gotten closer to breaking even. The hope is that getting all of this stuff just right, and continuing to build a base of good reviews will result in a virtuous cycle and profitability.

With that in mind, I’m thinking about changing the cover art. Originally, I’d gone with a classic 80’s layout. Looking at the competition in “Dark Fantasy” on Amazon, I’m making it more modern. Here’s the original, and what I’m thinking about doing:

      

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Transformative Paraphysics: Summary

This evening I finished the initial chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Transformative Paraphysics. It clocked in at around 6,200 words. The original LFBD synopsis was upwards of 10,000 words, but I think I have a better handle this time on my shorthand, where to expand and where I don’t have to. Much like doing the LFBD synopsis and writing the actual novel, problems seemed to solve themselves as I was writing it, and things happened that all either made thematic sense or suggested ways that they could when actually written.

I’m going to release the synopsis to a few beta readers who are interested, get some feedback, address weaknesses and issues, then drive it to a conclusion. After that, I start actually writing.

Really looking forward to delving back into that particular stream of mind that creates details out of pure nothingness and puts it on a page!

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Weapon of the Week: Beretta Over/Under 12 Gauge

Beretta is an Italian gun manufacturer that has been in business since 1526. 1526! They make everything from tiny, super-concealable, relatively inexpensive .22 pistols (I have one) to high end shotguns. That’s what we’re looking at today. Every year, my employer takes the entire office on a ski resort trip for two days. One of the activities is sporting clay shooting. The resort (Seven Springs) uses the most excellent Beretta 12 gauge over/under shotgun. Mechanically, they are very cool, with the first pull of the trigger firing the upper barrel and the second firing the lower.

But really, these things are more like works of art than weapons. Take a look:

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Pittsburgh Pic of the Week: Schenley Park

The big battle in the middle of LFBD takes place in Schenley Park. It’s a fantastic urban park with all kinds of areas, and I’ve included a few pictures below to help you visualize it.

Here’s one with a dog. I’m pretending it’s Babd:

and finally…

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Writing Software and Writing a Novel: Magic

This morning, I was struck by one of the similarities between working on both a well thought-out software project and a well thought-out novel, and why it feels like magic.

When you’re designing a piece of software (I mean the information design and architecture, not the visual design), you can’t foresee every possible implication and use of it. You can take a guess. But at some point, you have to apply what you know as well as you can, trust the process that got you this far, and just write the thing. You’ll encounter problems along the way, little details that you didn’t consider, but you’ll work your way through it. Then, you launch.

Here’s a practical example. At work, I wrote a task management system, because the ones we had available didn’t meet my needs, and we weren’t allowed to use popular third party systems. Now, about a year later, about 1,000 Googlers use my software to manage their projects and day-to-day tasks. They think of ways of using the software that I never considered. They have needs that the original design didn’t take into account. They show up at my digital doorstep asking for features that will help them do a better job.

Here’s where the magic happens.

Quite often, I’m able to go into the existing software and add the feature with very little work. Here’s this problem I had never considered (I need the software to do something it doesn’t do), and yet the solution presents itself as soon as I look at it, nestled nicely within the original architecture and design. I write it, and launch a new version. The software is better than it was before, and it’s because of a collision between good design and the real world. When that happens, it feels like magic.

What it actually is though, is a good original design.

How does this relate to writing a novel?

Well, right now I’m in the synopsis stage, where I write a fairly detailed synopsis of each chapter, following the story beat cards that I detailed Writing a Novel: Part 1.5 post last time. As I add detail at this level, and later on when I go to write the actual book, problems pop up. Things I hadn’t considered at the story beat level. Somehow, almost like magic, those problems resolve themselves. And when they resolve themselves, it’s in ways that actually make the story stronger. The feeling is exactly like the “new feature” feeling when writing software.

When either happens, it’s a rush. Like you won something.

Like magic.

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Writing a Novel: Part 1.5

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote a “Writing a Novel” series of posts. In step 1, you got your concepts, characters and images together. In step 2, you wrote a summary of each chapter. That’s how it worked out for me when writing Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog.

Now that I have my Step 1 materials in place for Transformational Paraphysics, I found that I had a gap before hitting Step 2. I had everything I thought I needed, but as I was planning the pacing of the book I realized that I needed more action in key places. The plot, while interesting, logical, etc., necessarily had a non-action based resolution. Well, there was some, but not enough for a good literary/adventure novel climax. This book is not supposed to be some moving pastorale, so I needed a change. Well, not really a change — I just needed more. The story itself was solid from a character and theme perspective.

I need a B Plot. LFBD did not really have a B Plot. It was a straight-through story. TPOAP has a different pace, and the action isn’t always being driven externally. A lot of it is the team figuring stuff out, which can be a little boring if done wrong. Enter the B Plot. I found something that made sense thematically, spurred off as a logical consequence of the A Plot, and had tie-ins throughout the story.

The problem now was in exactly how to weave the A and B Plots together. It wasn’t necessarily straightforward.

So, I’ve found myself at Writing a Novel: Part 1.5. Before I was able to start the chapter summaries, I needed to make sure that everything worked and that the right pacing was maintained. I try to maintain an even/odd cadence of chapters where we do Action, then Rest, then Action, then Rest, etc. It doesn’t always work that way, and maybe leading up to big Action you have two Rests.

I knew all of the story beats of the A Plot, and all of the beats of the B Plot, so I used one of my favorite organizational tools (Trello) to write each one out as a movable card (check the software to see what I’m talking about). I made two lists, one for each plot line. Then I made three more lists: Act I, Act II, Act III. Then I started putting the cards into the acts and shuffling them around until it all made sense.

As I did this, the great thing happened where opportunities started to present themselves. Like “Oh, if this happens after that, then this person could go _________ and it would be awesome!”

With all of the story beats for both plots nicely interwoven on the Trello board, I was able to start writing up the chapter summaries with confidence.

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Weapon of the Week: American-180

This thing is hilarious. It’s a machine gun that fires .22LR at up to 1,200 rounds per minute. Just, stupid stupid stupid. Rimfires are unreliable, and I get that they’re better than nothing, but still. Look at this:

From the Wiki article (which I usually don’t quote but this shit is funny):

“…testing demonstrated that automatic fire could penetrate even concrete and bulletproof vests from cumulative damage. However, the target would have to remain still for an improbable amount of time to allow the cumulative damage to amass in the same area to achieve this.”

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Dog Pic of the Week: Schipperke

These are great dogs, and they remind me a lot of my favorite: the rat terrier. Schipperkes are small (11-18 pounds) but not annoyingly miniature. They’re feisty, brave, intelligent, shttps://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/ef/0f/40/ef0f4019f35a98f9214ad473afbf76ea.jpgocial and full of personality. The first pic makes them look like one of those dangerous attack-type dogs, but the second shows how sweet they are. And a huge bonus: they are sometimes referred to as “LBD” — Little Black Devil. The denizens of the LFBD universe would be proud!

 

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)