2017-12-18

Keeping Your Data Safe

Update
Collision Course now stands at 55,740 words. I have a good ending in my head and the path to get there is relatively clear. If all goes well, the first draft of this new novel will be done by the end of the year (I hope).

Keeping Your Data Safe
You just finished typing "The End" on your latest 121,000 word novel you've been working on for the past five years. This major accomplishment calls for a celebration. Closing the lid on your laptop, you set it aside and head for the kitchen to open that bottle of bubbly you've been saving. After a steak dinner and a few glasses of celebratory drink, you head back to the laptop to share the news with your friends.

When you open the screen, you are greeted with a blue screen with white letters saying the computer has encountered an unrecoverable error. When you reboot, the system calmly explains that it cannot find the boot disk. After a sleepless night, you drive 30 miles to the nearest computer shop and hand your machine to the kind young adult behind the counter. She disappears into the back and a few minutes later tells you that your hard drive has crashed and all of the data it once held is now lost forever.

The above is a very possible reality--but it can be prevented. "Well, I use a memory stick," you say. Although that's a better solution, you're still not protected against the stick failing. Using a solid state drive? Same issue. Even though these devices are far more reliable than mechanical hard drives, they can still fail and when they do everything on them is forever lost. So how can you protect yourself?

My preferred method is to use a cloud-based storage solution. I'm a fan of DropBox. For the fair price of absolutely nothing (i.e. FREE) you can store up to 1 gigabyte of data. DropBox (and other similar cloud-based storage solutions) synchronize with a local copy of the data. This means that when Microsoft Word or Scrivener saves a file to your hard drive, DropBox quickly sends that same change to the cloud. If you are working offline, the program syncs as soon as the computer reconnects to the internet.

One popular non-cloud-based solution is to make a daily copy of important files to a second hard drive or a memory stick. This is good, but what happens if disaster strikes and your house burns to the ground? The fire will destroy your master copy as well as all backup copies you have in the house. The only sure-fire way to protect your work is to keep an up-to-date copy in the cloud.

Do you pay for the right to use Microsoft Word? As part of your annual subscription, you get access to a really good cloud-based storage solution called OneDrive. If you set this up right, all of your important data (pictures, videos, financial records, novels, etc.) will be securely stored in the cloud. The initial upload will take a long time but eventually, you will be protected against even the worst possible disaster. If you have more than one computer, you can create multiple accounts to back them up in the same way or you can just combine them all in the same account and they will automatically synchronize themselves with the same information.

The OneDrive solution works very well if you have a Microsoft subscription. But what if you don't and you have a lot of information to store? There are other services out there such. Carbonite and Crashplan are two of the largest. These cloud-based storage solutions are designed specifically for backing up your data and they cost about as much as a subscription to Microsoft. The cost, however, is well worth it.

One word of caution though. Never rely on the cloud-based service as the sole storage of any important documents. Why? What happens if the company goes bankrupt? This has happened and people using their servers were out of luck. You should always have a copy on your local system. If your cloud-based storage company closes its doors, find another one and upload again.

If you have extremely important data to store, make a couple of copies on memory sticks and get them out of your house. Take one to work, put one in your safe deposit box, put it in your car, give it to a trusted friend (you might want to encrypt it), or store it in a fireproof lockbox. The cloud is a great place to store your data, but sometimes you want to be extra paranoid.

Finally, it's always a good idea to make a system backup of each of your computers. This is different than just backing up your data. This process makes a copy of your operating system so it can be restored if your hard drive crashes. Hard drives are inexpensive these days--far cheaper than replacing the entire computer. If your hard drive crashes, you buy another drive, restore your operating system, and then wait while your data is recovered from the cloud. If you don't have a system backup, you have to go out and buy a copy of the operating system--might as well just buy another computer at that point.

System backups are relatively easy to do and I don't have the space here to explain how. You can store the backup in the cloud (if you have the room) or offsite as suggested above. Onsite storage is okay as well since if your computer is lost in a fire the system backup won't do you any good anyway.

Key points: Computers can and do fail. Memory sticks go bad. Your data is often irreplaceable. Treat it like a precious commodity. Back it up. Put the backup where a disaster can't touch it. If you don't, one of these days you're going to regret it.

2017-12-10

New leader

The writers group I regularly attend met yesterday at the usual place and time. What was different was a change in command. The health of the person who originally created the group has been an issue and she has not shown up for several meetings. Another author who also happens to have an MBA took it upon herself to take the helm. She has a knack for very quickly recognizing where a story needs to be tweaked and can pick out areas that need discussion far faster than I can. I think the group is in good hands. Thank you Andi!

One of the things that Andi has done differently with the group is to institute a short discussion at the start or end of the meeting on writing-related topics. Yesterday's meeting focused on point of view. The topic for the next meeting will be on backing up your work--a subject near and dear to me. I will be leading that discussion as well as writing a short article for the group's discussion board that Andi has established. I will post it here when it is finished.

Collision Course now stands at 53,601 words. I was on a roll yesterday but had to stop so I could attend the meeting. My original intention was to set writing aside today and continue learning JavaScript. Instead, I will be writing. When the words are there, I need to get them out and into the computer.

Sales have been pathetic of late and that does tend to have a discouraging effect on my desire to write. I do enjoy writing but there are so many other things I want to do as well (such as learning JavaScript). With sales trending down, I'm giving serious consideration to making Collision Course my last novel. I do have other potential novels in my head but there are other things I want to do. I will be taking a hiatus after this next book just to catch up on things. We will see what happens next.

Due to the slump in sales, I have also decided not to return to Launch Pad next year. I was also tentatively planning on attending the 2018 Nebula Conference which is being held only two hours from my home. But unless sales take a drastic change in the next week, those plans will also be scrapped. These are business decisions based on treating my writing as a business. If the money is not there, then it can't be spent no matter how much I would like to go. The IRS will accept a business running at a loss for only so long. After that, they expect the business to be closed.

There is still a small chance I will be going to the Nebula Conference perhaps as a last hurrah and because it is something I've always wanted to do. I have until December 15th to decide which is the last day for discounted tickets. If I do decide to go, I will let you know.

2017-12-03

Collision Course update

Even though I have a lot of news, I will try to be brief -- I know your time is precious.

Collision Course is now moving along swiftly. It currently stands at 52,000 words and the story is finally starting to come together nicely. There is a good chance I will be done with this by the end of the year. I have a short week next week and I'm on vacation after that. I intend to write as much as possible during my vacation.

My studies of JavaScript have become quite intense. I started my programming life as an assembly programmer (Z80 ASM if you're curious). I then transitioned to C which ran under DOS 3.2. For the past 25 years, I've been heavily involved in VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) as well as VB6 (which is now no longer supported). JavaScript is very different than any of those languages and it's been a bit of a struggle to learn. I could have decided to go the JQuery route but I would rather have a solid understanding of JavaScript first because JQuery is nothing more than a JavaScript library. It's finally beginning to sink in and I will be starting to write code I can play around with in the very near future. The interesting part about JavaScript is that it runs only in a browser (as far as I know). I would love to see a compiled version of this language as it is very powerful.

The news coming out of Washington has caused me to do something I've never done before -- register to vote. Yes, you heard me correctly, I've never registered to vote. I have always disliked politics and I dislike politicians even more. I never registered because I felt I would never have enough information to make an informed decision on the issues being voted upon. That changed when the current administration took control. Congress is writing bills that no longer serve the people. They are being controlled by big business and no longer listening to those who put them in office. Last week, they refused to allow the Democrats time to read the disgraceful bill they created going so far as to vote on a 500+ bill without any debate, no full discussion, no CBO score, and with hand-scribbled notes and half-ass promises made in the shadows of the night.

Don't take my word for it. Don't take the word of a single media outlet either. Go to the source and read the bill (if they make it available). Listen to multiple newscasts. Read more than one article. Get the facts and you will see for yourself that our Congress no longer works for the people who put them there. I for one have had enough and I will be voting to put the people who have allowed this to happen out of office by casting a vote in 2018. If you care about the future of this country, you will do the same.

America used to be looked up to by the rest of the world. Now, people laugh at us. We are the only nation on Earth not in agreement with the Paris accords. Our "democracy" has been analyzed and we are now viewed as an "oligarchy". We no longer support higher education, refuse foreign scientists and engineers entry based on the religion of their country of origin, harass people because of their beliefs, and ignore the social issues that are tearing this country apart. It's time for a change.

If you don't like what you see, make your voice heard. Vote. I intend to do so.

2017-11-23

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the day of the year when American families gather together to consume too much turkey, ham, and all sorts of sugary delights. We are supposed to use the day to give thanks for what we have and to thank others for what they have done. But why limit thanking others to a single day out of the year? The historical facts surrounding the first Thanksgiving are now being questioned. The Huffington Post has a good article concerning this that is worth reading. And, just like Christmas, our society has commercialized certain holidays to the point where the average person no longer understands the original purpose of the holiday. One may as well change the name of Thanksgiving to Black Friday Preparation Day and Christmas to Gift Giving Day.

As far as writing goes, I've made good progress on Collision Course and I'm well into the second half of the new novel. The two timelines are now properly aligned and I believe I have a way to end the story. I don't know when I will be done though as I have competing priorities these days. I've started reading a 1,000+ book on JavaScript as well as an 800 page book on JavaScript and JQuery. I'm also still working my way through several books on CSS and HTML. It's a lot of reading and a lot of learning but I've set my mind to learning how to do website development and I'm not backing down.

The other day, I signed up for the Cleveland Concoction which begins March 9th and runs for 3 days. This convention is unique in that they have what's called the Author Alley where they take books from attending authors and sell them to the convention goers. This is a fantastic idea and I applaud them for doing this. This will be the first time I've attended and if the sales are good I will return. For most self-published authors, conventions are not worth the money unless you just want to go to the convention to enjoy yourself. The Cleveland Concoction might prove to be different.

The other convention that has proven to be a success for me is the Northeast Ohio Geek Expo. I've attended this event for the past two years and each time I made more in sales than it cost me to attend. For a self-published author, this is an event worth attending especially since it is local to me. I treat my writing as a business and every financial decision associated with attending a convention is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. If the result is a negative cash-flow, I don't spend the money.

I have a lot of reading to do as well as a turkey to cook. Time to end this and get back to learning.

2017-11-11

Snow

This has been a very busy week. It has not been a productive week for writing though. I had something to occupy my time every day. Yesterday (a day off), Cheryl and I just sort of lounged around the house. I never once fired up my writing computer and barely touched the cell phone. It was a day to just kick back, get some reading done, and relax. I had been working on a very complex piece of programming at work and I think my brain just needed a break.

Wednesday, I blew all the leaves out to the street. Thursday morning, the leaf sucker truck rolled by and made them go away. Unfortunately, my one remaining tree with leaves on it decided that Thursday morning was the time to drop its leaves--all of them! So, I spent Thursday blowing leaves again. Friday morning, it snowed for the first time this winter.

The good news is that the house and yard are now prepped for winter and I have a couple days left in the weekend. But now I must decide if I want to write or continue to learn more about the amazingly powerful jQuery programming language. It's a toss-up as to which I like more; writing or programming. Before I took up writing, I would sit and read programming books pretty much any chance I got. Then, I discovered the joy of self-publishing and writing became my new passion. But things are swinging back around.

One of the driving forces behind a writer is the knowledge that the stories he or she creates are going to be enjoyed by others. Our species developed language so we could pass on knowledge and experience to our fellow humans. We began doing so by telling stories and now it is deeply rooted in our behavior. What do you do when you go to a party or are just sitting with your friends? What activity can bring work on an important project to a halt as everyone gathers around the water cooler? Storytelling!

But, without an audience, even the most die-hard writer begins to question if spending hundreds of hours working on a story is worth their time. The itch to write will never go away, but when sales are low for weeks and months on end, the writer finds that the itch doesn't need to be scratched as often. I will eventually finish Collision Course, especially since I am more than half-way done with it. But I'm on the fence regarding whether or not I want to start another book after that. The odds are good that I will--but one never knows.