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In further ‘rise of the machines’ news, I’ve had a spot of bother with my printer this week. My laptop is now fine again, thanks for asking, but the printer *shakes head*

My first chore on Friday morning was to print out a postage label and a bookshop order reference, then package up a copy of Breathe and Release to send off to a library.

This is not mind-boggling as far as chores go. The half hour walk to and from the Mall to post the package (that’s half hour total, not two lots of half hour which would be close to actual exercise and therefore discouraged) I judged to be the hardest part.

Needless to say, I was wrong. Or, at least, I think I was wrong. If I’d ever gotten to the bit where I walked to the Mall chances are that I could’ve found it a terrible ordeal and ended up injured in some horrible, unimaginable way, but I didn’t so I don’t know.

I didn’t get to that part because of Magenta.

Magenta is fondly remembered from my childhood of attempting to program a basic computer colour palette into producing basic coloured graphics and as a character in the much-loved ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’

These are now over-shadowed by a blinking red light and hours of ‘But Why?’ shouted in a loud voice before a flow of copious tears made speech impossible.

The printer was fine the last time my darling used it. Or so he says now. When I pressed the button to turn it on I wasn’t even looking at the printer lights. I was down on my hands and knees telling my laptop what I wanted to be printed out. I have to kneel when dealing with the printer because, despite wifi capability being listed on the box, there‚Äôs no sign of that being a practical application of the machine itself.

At one point, I dedicated many hours to finding out how to program the printer onto a permanent IP address. That way our network would always know where to find it (or something, even that is hazy now) but it fell apart with the introduction of our new super-fast fibre connection and I couldn’t be bothered working it all out again.

Therefore, we had to plug the USB into the side of the laptop whenever we wanted to print, and that meant getting down on hands and knees.

Technology is incredible.

When it was obvious there was no corresponding paper being printed in response to my explicit instructions to my laptop, I stood up to see if the printer needed more paper or a jiggling of the document tray.

Apparently, there was something else awry. Something to do with an LED light which looked gray but must have faded in the sun because after investigating on the internet I discovered it was meant to be coloured Magenta.

Foul, foul, Magenta.

When have I ever wanted to print out anything coloured purple?

I tried to explain patiently to the printer that actually I just wanted it to print in black and white (or greyscale as it insists on calling it). The answer was two blinking red lights.

I pulled out the magenta cartridge, getting some magenta ink on my person because the toner cartridge is almost brand new and full of ink powder, and shook it in front of the printer so it could see that there was a magenta toner cartridge available, then shoved it back in. The response was two blinking red lights.

Eventually, I gave up and bought a new printer.

That’s not because of my frivolous capitalist nature, either. That’s because to purchase a magenta cartridge to test out whether it was something wrong with the cartridge rather than the printer, cost twice as much as it would to buy a new printer. Given it was a 50/50 of there being something wrong with the cartridge that was a lot of good money potentially thrown after bad.

I don’t understand it. I did economics in High School, but the world has moved on since then.

In better and brighter news, I’ve been designing book covers for my latest work-in-progress over the last couple of weeks. I have narrowed it down to the cover which I prefer and the cover which my darling prefers.

Naturally, I listen to my readers and my darling is a reader (comes with proximity) so I have to take his opinions into consideration.

To try to slip my preferences through, however, I have attached two pictures to this blog post. One is my favourite, the other is my darling’s. Please feel free to comment and express your opinions freely so that I can listen to readers other than my darling.

About votes: the top cover is called 1 and the bottom cover is called 2. I have my fingers crossed.

Also, if you’d like to read the first three chapters in the coming weeks, please sign up to my newsletter here. Yes, I do call subscribers My Groupies. No, it isn’t offensive. Is too, a term of endearment.

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22 Nov / The latest fad

Eight years ago when I experienced my first bout of Vertigo there were very few people around me with whom I could compare symptoms. I had the weird fortune of having a disease which nobody else seemed to have had.

This meant a few things. First, I could make stuff up about how awful it was because who was there to contradict me? Second, I could offer up my own recuperation period for exactly the same reason.

I greatly enjoyed the week I had at home to recover. Especially the three days after all my symptoms disappeared.

Also, because this happened in the distant past, people weren’t in the habit of looking everything up on the Internet in the same way they do now. Doctor Google and his cancerous tumour answer for everything was still a thing of the future.

Nowadays, I’d be hard pressed to get away with the same level of deception.

Which is a pity because I’ve had the unluck to fall ill with vertigo twice in the past year. Each bout worse than the last. It does make it easy on my doctor to prescribe medication because it’s already sitting on her computer screen. My disease recurred with such haste it didn’t even drop to the second page.

Last week my darling’s mother became poorly. Well, she became poorly twice earlier, but they were things which could be addressed at the doctor’s office at her inconvenience the way treatment should be administered.

In fact, just hours before calling for an ambulance, she’d been sitting in the after-hours clinic having a hair pulled out of her eye. If she’d just stayed put for a few hours there wouldn’t have been half the drama.

But that’s in crystal clear hindsight.

After becoming dizzy for a while during the day, she laid down to have a rest which made her feel far worse rather than far better. You know you’re ill when lying in bed doesn’t cure you.

After the ambulance was called and the patient sent to hospital they discovered her blood pressure was out of control and my darling settled in for a long wait.

The cause of this illness? Vertigo.

Been there, done that. Without the blood pressure bigness. Unless it got really high and I just didn’t notice because I didn’t ever think to take a reading.

In the days that followed it turned out that most of her village had experienced vertigo. Many of them within the past few months as well (if their memories can be trusted).

After that, a woman on the radio started blathering on about how she’d been feeling sick for the past week or so and what did she have? Yes, that’s right. Give the man a cigar.

Common illnesses aren’t any fun at all. You can’t exaggerate a symptom that everyone else is experiencing. The recovery time can’t be stretched out into a nice comfortable allowance.

It’s like getting a cold in the middle of winter. Right when everybody else in the office has one. You sneeze and cough and feel as bad as anyone has ever felt – even yourself when experiencing colds in the past because no way have they ever been this bad, right? – but nobody cares because they’re all wrapped up in their own disease and every time you complain of something they have exactly the same thing. Even when you exaggerate for sympathetic effect they have it. And they’re NOT lying.

So, no more vertigo for me for the time being. Until it goes back to being a disease of comforting rarity I will expect my immune system to get on board and go find something a bit more exotic. Go fetch!

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15 Nov / Laptop troubles

I’m not entirely certain of what’s happening but it appears my laptop is trying to kill me.

It may be slow, taking its time, gradually dialling up the blood pressure and the pulse rate to wear out my tiny, overworked heart, but it’s still doing it. Stealthy, like all malfunctioning machines. You can’t trust ’em even when you think you’re friends.

It used to be that all my laptop asked for was a power supply and an occasional complete battery discharge when it was feeling frisky. Soon after purchase it became my favourite laptop; unexpected due to the lack of a touch screen which was all the rage at the time I brought it (Windows 8 had just come out) but with the addition of a dual graphics card which allowed me to play PC games with only a slight lag.

Back in the day I was amazed at the speed with which it started up. After Windows 7, where the computer loved telling you messages about how long it still had to go before it opened but reassuring you that it was going to get there eventually, Windows 8 was a dream. You pushed a button, waited for two seconds, entered your password and you were at the desktop. Or whatever they call that screen it ends up on.

Never an appreciator of the apps screen, I eschewed it in favour of clicking on Desktop and using things the way I’d always done. Our beautiful, untroubled relationship continued for a year until I installed Goat Simulator (mainly due to the spoof trailer) and instead of having a new game I had a blue screen with a big sad face on it.

It was our first big break up. I attempted to rekindle interest by taking its back off and poking about inside it, but I didn’t really know where all the bits special to it were, or how to touch them, so we remained estranged.

Thinking it was over I started up a relationship with a younger model. It was properly flashy with a screen that released from the keyboard to turn from a laptop into a tablet.

So cool.

It also had the touchscreen that I’d pretended I didn’t need but secretly longed for. When I touched my new laptop it was fully responsive. It was exciting. It was new.

It was also a piece of junk. The lag was appalling and it was no use trying to play a PC game on it. I’d had more responsive gameplay from our old Spectrum than my shiny new toy could offer.

Ah, shiny, shiny thing. You were so pretty and so slow. My rebound bimbo.

With renewed passion, and having expended any chance of buying a proper replacement laptop by purchasing my weak hybrid, I poured my time and energy into getting to know the insides of my old laptop with true intimacy. With time and patience I finally worked out what made it tick, and ended with the grand result of a laptop restored to its full glory. Not to mention upgraded to Windows 8.1 (still don’t know what the difference is, but I’m not complaining)

So that was out first falling out. We both recovered and moved on; a bit older, a bit wiser.

Lately, there’s been a bit of a sea change in our lifestyles. We’re both getting on in years. I now struggle to bend my knee in the morning and my laptop struggles to turn on immediately. Not Windows 7 (or God forgive Windows Vista) slow but not like it’s spring chicken self.

There’s also been a few changes in our relationships. I try not to hang around with any people and my laptop has stopped communicating with some of the programs that used to be its favourites. I try to understand but whereas the people I’ve stopped seeing don’t matter to my laptop, the software it’s had a falling out with do matter to me.

Take Outlook (or as the old joke goes take Outlook, please). We’ve always maintained a working relationship. Now my laptop is trying to cut off ties between us just because it’s having a bit of trouble. The same with Word. And Excel.

Personally, I think it’s because the programs have been spruced up with a facelift and some new nonsense that is very exciting to read about but which I’ll never use. Yes. Microsoft Office 2016 has arrived.

My laptop doesn’t understand this younger generation. The quicker they want to do things and the more they want to do, the more my laptop digs in its heels and goes slow. Sometimes it’ll just stop responding altogether. Apart, that is, from the sign at the top of the screen saying “Not Responding.” Some of those times are when it should be doing things that are vitally important to me, such as saving all those words that I’ve been sweating to type out.

Yelling doesn’t do any good. Once, in the long distant past, I encountered a similar situation with a laptop. I can also attest as a result of that experience that slamming it shut and repeatedly hitting it don’t do anything either. Those signs are right. Abuse. IT’S NEVER OKAY. Have you tried to get a laptop screen replaced at Christmas? We had to drive to a house with an actual person in it. They talked to me AND EXPECTED ME TO TALK BACK TO THEM.

So yesterday I did the only thing I could think of. I dug deeply into my internal resources of patience and forbearance and attempted to give my laptop a makeover. Or a tuneup, if you prefer.

Over long hours I responded to messages and waited for long periods of time as little bots crawled over my laptop and exclaimed their findings on screen along with their recommendations. Some ridiculous (delete duplicate items found on my hard drive and my cloud drive – do you not understand backup copies?), some perfectly acceptable.

As a last treat I put aside my own concerns, such as the need to constantly refresh my Amazon KDP Reports page in case I’d missed a sale, and set up for a full disk drive refurbishment.

It may not cost money (I have none to spend) but it does require an investment of some solid time.

I gritted my teeth, made sure that my mobile phone battery was fully charged, and committed myself to this course of action. I closed down everything, said my goodbyes, and rebooted. My laptop reopened in a full disk repair and I sat back to play Scrubby Dubby. Yes, it’s a game for adults, what are you implying?

An hour passed and I congratulated myself on for my patience. Another passed, I calculated that at 11% complete I would be leaving the laptop on all night and got a bit freaked. When a third hour had passed and the screen was still showing 11% I began to feel afraid. For me. For my laptop. Was it all coming to an end?

At the four hour mark I conceded that this was ridiculous and I began to search online for guidance, cursing at the teeny, tiny screen of my mobile phone. I received instructions, followed them, and the wait was over but so too was the repair. The slowness will just have to be accommodated because there is no solution coming. After coming that close to losing my laptop forever, it’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make.

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This is my word goal. Since I’ve only taken a career break for six months I have to make that time count, so I have hard and fast rules about my productivity.

One of those hard and fast rules is that if I’m concentrating on marketing, I have permission to take that day off.

Another is that the weekends are mine. Sometimes that means mine to spend all of my time concentrating on other writing projects, or to finish up the marketing I didn’t get around to (ie put off for as long as possible) but for-sure there is no word count on my current WIP.

If I have to go to the doctor’s that counts as a sick day. I don’t have to meet any word goals on those days.

If I’m actually sick, I also take a sick day, because otherwise I feel completely cheated and then sulk because my boss is a hard-arse.

But other than that, I produce 5,000 words a day on my current manuscript.

Oh, there’s also an exemption for creating other media. This was meant to be so I could create audiobook versions of my work (the first of which can be found here and listened to as part of a FREE trial), but turned out to be also used for creating a video explaining exactly why I hate that Twitter changed from a star to “favourite” tweets to a heart to “like” them. Blurgh. Try using that to boost a tweet about how many people ISIS have executed this year.

Honestly, I go onto Twitter because I like sarcasm. Hearting everything may be ironic but it’s not the same thing. I’m finding that I have to amp up the sarcasm just to break even and then it all starts to edge into the realm of mean, which isn’t attractive. Unless you’re a serial killer (of real folks, not characters).

But that’s all. Other than that I’m hard at work every day getting those words done. A lot of them suck, true, but at least they’re there.

Which is good because as my brain likes to remind me when I’m trying to fall blissfully asleep, at the end of this month I’ll be halfway through said career break, and doesn’t the second half of anything go more quickly?

Oh, the breathing gets a bit shallow in the wee hours of the morning.

To tell you the truth, I thought one of my battles was going to be getting out of bed in the morning, and the other was going to be the Playstation.

Turns out my sworn enemy is staring into the middle distance doing absolutely nothing. This is what happens when I start to search for a particular word, or need a moment to sort out the next scene. An hour later all that’s happened is my eyes have had a nice rest.

Is this meditation? Thinking of nothing, looking at nothing. I could be elevating to a higher plane by accident any day now.

BTW for anybody following my blog last week I have good news about the sparrow fledgling. Turns out he wasn’t a special needs sparrow as can be seen in the following picture which features fledgling (bottom) and sibling (top). He just needed a little bit of sibling rivalry to get going.

He’s now flown the confines of our backyard but never fear, on Friday we gathered two replacements, Trouble One and Trouble Two.

They flew the coop yesterday, so now we’re back to status quo. Until the next time…

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04 Nov / Plastic on Fire

While we were waiting at Cairns airport this morning (without the comforts of a Koru Lounge) I noticed that there was a new Boeing 787 waiting on the tarmac. Not for us, thank goodness.

I’ve long made my feelings known to my darling about my refusal to travel on these plastic beasts.

This started back when their delivery date was missed the first couple of times, and was reinforced when their test flight program had to be repeatedly abandoned due to unforeseen dangers and errors.

When they finally started shipping out my refusal was cemented forever when they all had to be grounded because their batteries kept catching fire. Something that was not actually fixed by the way. All that was added was the ability to suppress and contain the fires that did start. Yeah, that’s gonna sell me on their safety.

Being made of plastic would be okay. Catching fire would be less okay but containment if it does, fine.

Being made of plastic and catching fire; not a chance in hell matey.

You know what happens if you hold a lot match to a supermarket bag? Now imagine that with 290 passengers screaming inside it. Yeah, so can I.

My darling was fascinated with it. He almost pressed his nose to the glass. He had a love affair with planes. He knows their measurements the way you know your girlfriend’s, and he’ll tell you stories about their production the way you reveal anecdotes from your childhood.

He pointed out the curved sweep of the tail, and how you can still see the slight shape of a shark’s tail as it was originally envisioned, before the airlines found out it would cost extra and unanimously turned the shark design down. Spoilsports.

I pointed out that it was probably sitting away from the other planes on the tarmac because they didn’t want innocent bystander planes to die when it burst into flames.

He scoffed at my suggestion, and a second later a fire alarm sounded and the terminal had to be evacuated. A fire truck rolled past on its absurdly large wheels and headed straight for the 787.

I won.

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01 Nov / Birds

So many birds. After mourning the deaths of at least five nestlings over the last week, I discovered a real live sparrow fledgling in the back yard on Tuesday morning.

This is him:

Isn’t he cute?

Last year we had another little fledgling making our back yard his home which you can see here. He was also cute but mysteriously disappeared. Our sparrow fledgling, however, is still with us. Yah!

He’s made a bush in the back yard his home and his poor put-upon mother visits regularly to keep him topped up with worm protein. He keeps trying to fly and, much to his personal chagrin, keeps failing badly.

Yesterday, it occurred to me and my darling that he’s hung around quite a long time now. Surely there’s a time limit on this sort of stuff? I mean he’s very handsome and all that so he obviously has good genes, but you can’t take that to the bank. Surely there are fledgling development goal posts he should be meeting?

Turns out there are.

Sparrow fledglings should leave the nest before they can fly. Confusing to a non-bird species, but tick.

After 1-2 days on the ground they should be able to fly. ????

Their parents will continue to look after them for 14 days. Tick. Good parents.

Looks like our little fledgling has missed the big one. He’s now scared of us, which is good because on the first day he didn’t even know that much, but he should’ve been flying by now. I’m starting to think he’s a special needs sparrow.

That’s fine now, while he’s all cute and stuff, but after a few weeks I’m not sure I’ll feel the same.

Oh well. Cat duty (where my darling runs full tilt at any cats who dare to cross the threshold to our property, hissing and waving his arms) will remain in force for another week.

In other bird news we started to suspect there was a nest in our spouting due to the number of nestlings falling to their deaths on our driveway but without the benefit of any trees being nearby.

This was confirmed when a stick poked out from the side of the spouting and even when I poked at it with a broom I couldn’t dislodge it. A nest in your spouting may be fine if you live someplace hot and sunny, but in Christchurch we occasionally have rain and the spouting serves an actual purpose.

My darling fetched a ladder and dislodged it.

Now, I have used some artistic license in the above renditions (yes that is too art!) as there weren’t actually any eggs in the nest. The nest also wasn’t particularly well-formed and couldn’t even be added to my bird’s nest collection after being forcefully thrown onto the driveway with a broom handle because it broke apart into dried grass. The nestling dilemma remains unsolved.

However, I’m certain there’s some manbird out there right now sweet-talking an impregnated loved one into coming back home to his nest to lay her eggs and he’s about to get a bad shock. Rather like picking up a pregnant woman by saying you have the perfect home for her to have her baby, then taking her to the public park.

Poor little soldier will just have to start again somewhere else. On the bright side at least he won’t have to deal with the potential hassle of taking care of a special needs fledgling.

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Seriously, there’s not. Look at this.

There it should be, snuck between the U and the O but instead it’s nowhere to be seen.

I like to think that the world doesn’t revolve around me but from the look of my keyboard my favourite letter in the world is quite obviously I.

The E is on its way out as well but that’s perfectly understandable being the commonest letter in the English alphabet and all. I know this thanks to reading Misery by Stephen King as a youngster and it having made a great impression upon me.

I also seem to recall that the second most used letter was R and unless Stephen King was deliberately misleading me, something which I cannot for the life of me fathom a reason for, then it should also be on the way out. It’s not.

The S is looking a bit shaky and the O looks like a second U tilted to one side, but the rest of the keyboard is feeling just fine and dandy, thank you very much.

Maybe I type words ending in “oise” a lot and that’s the source of my trouble.

The reason they’re wearing away at all can be firmly laid at the feet of my high school education where I was forced, along with the rest of my third form class, to learn to type for three months. Three months.

We learned with aprons covering our fingers, a large chart showing the location of letters on a keyboard on the wall, and manual typewriters. Only the last of those is relevant to my current complaint.

If you’ve built up the routine of hitting a key as hard as you can with your finger because if you don’t it won’t make a mark on the paper and also built up the muscle strength in those said fingers, you don’t just lose it because the technology changes.

Three months nearly thirty years ago and I still thump away at keys as though they need to depress a full inch. At least I’ve lost the habit of using Twink to cover up my mistakes. Messes up the screen, that.

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21 Oct / Moist

This word makes my skin crawl and my stomach churn. And not in the good way.

I try to avoid things that are moist, require moistening, have been moistened, or were once moist, but this word still haunts my dreams.

My darling hates my large variety of dwarf fruit trees with a passion. He would prefer that the entire yard was covered in concrete while still somehow having daffodils bloom up each spring. His concession to not concreting it is to cover as much of it as he can in lawn.

Where I used to have a couple of vegetables gardens, there is now grass. Where there was a patch of wildflowers that self-seeded each year, there is now grass. Where I once had a beautiful collection of Jerusalem Artichokes that hardly ever got around to growing their bright flowers, guess what? Lawn.

Every night after making his usual threats about what in the property is going to be cut down as soon as I die, my darling heads outside to MOISTEN his seed.

I am not joking. This is what he says. Every night.

The only benefit is that after saying it he heads out of the house for ten minutes to water the lawnseed. By the time he arrives back inside I’ve usually managed to choke back my nausea.

Right now, so soon after the latest episode, my only dream is to outlive my darling and plant a new fruit tree in celebration each month thereafter, until there is no more room left.

Instead of lawns, there’ll be the patches of ground that have fruit trees on them, have fruit rotting on them, or are being dug up to have fruit trees on them.

Yeah, it’ll be so great when I rule the world. Maybe one day I can even talk myself into eating fruit.

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19 Oct / Happy Sad

The National is my second favourite band in the world. My first favourite has a dead lead singer and disbanded and rebanded long before I became interested in them, so possibly don’t count as being in the world, and I had to find a second favourite because they only recorded two albums.

In the interest of not running out of new music to listen to from my favourite band (of all time, I’ve decided now, not, in the world) I dole out Joy Division at the rate of two songs maximum per year, and the same song from a different album remixed counts each time.

So, since that’s highly inconvenient and it doesn’t look like anybody is getting reincarnated soon, I had to find a second. Thanks to a one minute segment of ‘Start a War’ on the end of an episode of ‘The Riches’ I found a new band.

Ever since I have highly anticipated all of their albums, even the ones that weren’t highly anticipated. I’ve even listened to their early stuff when it seems they were channeling some country rock vibe (ugh), the weird one-offs which I keep forgetting about because they’re not attached to an album, and I listened to whatever the hell that Game of Thrones ditty was.

So on Friday when my darling was listening to the radio and I heard me some familiar baritone, I was ecstatic. A new song from The National. And it’s been a while so probably a whole new album.

I excitedly searched all of the Internet (except the Dark Net, that stuff gets real, fast) and came up with… nothing. There was no new National album, and there was no new National song.

But it was on the new song segment.

I had to wait until the end of the song to learn that Matt Berninger (from the National) has joined together with some dude I’ve never heard of but apparently is popular in Portland? and formed a new band.

This is great! Except it’s awful!

What are you meant to feel when something happens which is simultaneously fantastic and possibly the end (or the beginning of the end) of the thing you love second best in the world?

Third best, sorry Darling.

In New Zealand our casual slang has developed a phrase that perfectly encompasses these situations: Yeah, nah.

El Vy? Yeah, nah.

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