Real world or bust

December 14th, 2009

Gosh I haven't posted on here for a while. It feels like every time I come back to my blog WordPress needs updating again and that is the signal that I have to update a dozen blogs that belong to our company. So excuse me if I'm a little tired of blogging of late.

Rather than my digital life, I've been working on spending more time in the real world. Writing for more is largely a solitary activity and sitting at a keyboard for than a decade has left me distanced from real humans and face-to-face interactions. Correcting this has taken more effort than I ever would have expected when I started writing and running my own business. If you count up the number of interactions the average person makes during their day (by both being at work and getting to and from work) you will come up with a number that vastly exceeds the number in the average day of writer like me. It's lonely, but not so as you'd notice. Home working is touted as a solution for people with many anxiety disorders , but working from home can create such disorders where they weren't before, if you're not careful. Writing doubly so!

So my path of late has been to get out more. Distance learning likewise keeps you isolated so taking face to face courses has been an important step for me. Taking trips and pursuing work and doing interviews which need me to leave my comfort zone has been good too. I can't say however that I've found it easy.

A change of direction is on the cards too. I have decreased the amount of tech writing that I've been doing over the past few years and increasingly writing about a broader range of subjects across several genres. Now I have enrolled on a Screenwriting Masters which started in the summer. This is a huge step for me. I've always wanted to write for the screen and is closer to where I started out as the little girl who wanted to be an actress.

Stay tuned!

Today I don’t understand my digital life

April 27th, 2009

Stop the digital world I think I wanna get off ...

Why am I posting this? What's it all about? Facebook? Twitter? Second Life? Blogging? Very suddenly today I just don't get it anymore...

I'm writing as always sitting in my office. I   have a dozen applications open, some work, some not, some social, some not.   I'm reading tweets, updating my Facebook status so my old school friends can know what I'm thinking this second, checking my MSN contact list to see what Mom is doing and what my kids are listening to, checking my email which is nearly always stuff I either delete straightaway or mark as spam, whilst a virtual avatar of me sits in my virtual second life office next to a virtual cat. And all of a sudden I just DON'T GET IT anymore. 

I've been online for more years than most and working and teaching online since the mid nineties.  It used to make sense. I used to write things that helped people or inspired them. I used to teach people from around the world and feel utterly amazed by the medium that lets me do that.  I used to feel like I was talking to people. They would send emails or write posts or ask questions.   They were people.

Maybe it's the sheer numbers of people that one is exposed to in any given day which is too much.  Maybe the signal to noise ratio was lower.  That's assuming what I am putting out is signal and everyone else's is noise, which, while horribly biased, is everyone's own natural viewpoint.   And maybe that is the crux of the problem. Everyone feels pressured to share their status, tell the world what they're thinking or working on, divulge their fears and post their photos from Saturday night.  But is there really anything to SAY? Do the thousands of people currently twittering about swine flu really have anything useful to say about it?   (Why am I even reading it??)   But then what makes the words of a financial analyst any more reliable about the future of the economy or a particular company?   WHO do you listen to?   And what makes me think I have anything to write anymore?   Or you?

Part of the problem is the firehose mentality of Twitter, which is the hot thing at the moment.  Whilst it can be enormously useful for getting real time reports of things that are happening, the signal to noise ratio is too low and you get the unwanted irrelevant thoughts of so many people direct into your brain.  With Facebook you're looking at the profiles and statuses of select people, even if they're people from your school days who otherwise don't feature in your daily life.   The purpose of Second Life is something which I am used to waning in and out. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to spend money on digital clothing to go virtual clubbing because I'm spending real time with real friends listening to real live musicians - even if me, the friends and the musicians are all sitting alone in our respective homes.   At the very least real communication is going on.   But then there are other times when I don't get it at all.  Logging in seems to be just about your av standing around on a sim surrounded by other avs standing around.   Why are they there? What are they waiting for?  Are they talking to their friends? Or are they wondering the same thing about me?

Maybe this is what burn out is, I don't know.  It used to be called information overload back in the day and it's something that we feared - our brains breaking down from just too much coming at us.   Most of us evolved and the issue went away. We learned to multi-task better, to compartmentalize, to put things on the back-burner so that email and spam didn't dictate your time, so you could cogitate on one thing that's open in the background somewhere, whilst doing a foreground hands-on task. That way not a second is wasted and you can still keep your finger on the pulse.  But were we just delaying the problem, staving it off for another day?  I can't remember the last time I did just ONE thing at a time.   Maybe it's time to take my finger off the pulse for a little while?

But am I still me if I shut down and switch off?  Most of the time even if we step away from the keyboard our digital lives continue without us.  People comment on your posts, like or dislike your statuses, tag their photos of you, send you email and offline messages, Google you, schedule you for meetings.   Someone's av is talking to my av in Second Life right now even though while I'm not strictly afk my attention is afsl.   We take our phones and Blackberries with us so we can still text and be texted, tweet, send in our statuses on pretty much any application you can think of.   So how do you really ever get away from it?  

If I ignore an email from a friend am I snubbing them? If I don't log into a forum am I breaking all ties with that community?  And what about friend requests?   If I turn down a friend request because I don't want to share my digital world with that person doesn't it translate into the real world as meaning I don't like you and I don't want to be your friend anymore?  The etiquette, the social rules, the empathy, just hasn't evolved yet to deal with this intermingling of our real and digital lives.  There is no pause button on real life so likewise there is no pause on digital life.

So while I can say that suddenly I just don't get my digital life because the digital world is so intertwined with the real world isn't what I'm really saying is that suddenly I don't understand life?

Vista & Windows 7 thoughts: Breadcrumbs

March 12th, 2009

I thought I'd write a little bit about Windows 7 today. I've been using it for about a month now primarily because my Samsung Netbook (which came with XP on it) won't run Vista but it will run Windows 7. For me moving onto beta software is a rather unusual step - sure I'll try it out and have a play, either in VMWare or on a spare test PC at work, but switching to something that's not finished yet felt like rather a bold step - but I couldn't stand XP a minute longer. If you are a Windows user who didn't move onto Vista you might not understand this. Everyone said Vista Sucks when it first came out (myself included) but there were several things that I liked about it and eventually even its idiosyncrasies it grew on me.

One of the things that a sudden switch back to XP meant was the loss of the 'breadcrumb trail' - I don't know if that's what it's called and tbh I can't be bothered to go find out its official name right now, mark me down as a lazy blogger if you like, either way here's a picture of the thing:
Breadcrumb trail
Initially when I started using Vista I thought that this thing was an attrocious idea. How would I be able to navigate my file system let alone my network if it looked like this?!
But little by little I got used to it. The ability to click on the name of the folder and see what was inside it was more useful than I'd originally given it credit for:
Breadcrumb - shows the contents of the folder above
And for those times when I really do need the path to a folder (such as when I'm sending someone a link to a network file) all you have to do is click on the folder symbol at the left of the address bar and the path is displayed:
Breadcrumb trail - path

The same breadcrumb trail appears in the save dialog and it's here I find it indespensible. No more navigating up and then down to adjacent folders, mostly it's one click away. Breadcrumb in the save as dialog box

(Before everyone writes in, yes I know those are Vista and not Windows 7 screenshots above. I couldn't be bothered to go screenshot my Netbook right now either. Am I lazy today or what?!)

More soon!

Using Wacom Cintiq & Intuos

February 22nd, 2009

I love my Wacom Cintiq as I loved my Intuos 3 tablet before it. When I first got the Cintiq I read a lot of comments from people who loved their new Cintiq so much they were immediately consigning their Intuos to eBay or FreeCycle (or - heaven forfend! - the trash), and this really bothered me as I dearly loved my Intuos setup which it had taken me ages to get just right. The Intuos is also a much bigger area than the Cintiq (I only got the little one) so as excited as I was didn't want to let it go. But being the 'have my cake AND eat it' kind of person that I am, I decided to keep both!

  • Although Wacom don't advertise two tablets as being a viable option - it is! The same Wacom driver works for both devices and is happy to let you set them up with different settings.

    The Wacom control panel app allows you to setup the Cintiq and the Intuos independently which I've found really useful. I have my pen set up to work on the cintiq screen area only (because you point at the screen to use it - you may need think about this for a second if you don't have a Cintiq of your own) but as soon as I move that same pen onto the Intuos tablet it gives me immediate access the entire desktop area across all three monitors - great for multi-tasking as I don't need to go scrabbling for my mouse. Also within Photoshop you only pull just the workspace area onto the Cintiq, leaving all the other controls, history palette, layers palette etc back on your main monitor. Ordinarily to access those settings the Cintiq comes with a monitor switching button but I don't use this as I find it interupts my workflow too much - as does scrabbling for the mouse. What's great about having my old Intuos right alongside the Cintiq is that every time I need to change color or function in one of the palettes in Photoshop I can do it with the same pen just by moving it onto the Intuos.

  • The button layout on the Cintiq is similar to the Intuous so by having both I doubled the number of buttons. If you use the default button layout for Photoshop it is mainly modifier keys, which I don't find that useful. So I've always set it up to change functions in Photoshop which lets me work faster. In order to use the Cintiq I have to pull it into my keyboard's normal position on the desktop, so functions that would once have best been performed by shortcut keys (for example, b for brush, d for default, x to swap colors etc etc) are more difficult. Having twice the number of buttons between the Cintiq and the Intuos is therefore very useful!
    Here's my button layout with the Cintiq on the left and Intuos on the right as it appears on my desk when I'm working. I realize the button setup is a very personal thing, so this is what works for me, yours would be different, but it demonstrates the benefits of using both tablets together.
    My Cintiq and Intuos button setup (Cintiq on the left)
  • The pens for the Intuos work on the Cintiq which is good as it doubled my pens straightaway. Voila double the settings options!

Wacom Cintiq with dual monitors

November 8th, 2008

A couple of days ago I was asked by Gordon Robb about my Cintiq post the following question

" does the cintiq connect if you already have two monitors. I have this setup, but my graphics card only has two outputs, so where would the cintiqu go? This is the only thing stopping me buying it."

Thanks for your question Gordon. My solution is two dual output graphics cards (ATI Radeon 4800 series). This allows me to have my two main monitors and the Cintiq as an auxiliary. Because my deskspace is limited I'm not in a position to use the Cintiq as a third monitor all the time but on rare occasions when three screens have come in very handy. I use ultramon to handle my existing dual monitor setup and it can handle the Cintiq as a third monitor just fine.

Making the most of my memory – x64

May 3rd, 2008

A few months back Adrian put a small box on my desk. Inside was 8 gigs of RAM and a message: "It's time." Time to go to Vista 64 bit. I resisted. The little box sat on my desk, staring at me for weeks.

I was scared. I was absolutely convinced that I would lose a lot more than I would gain with those 4 extra gigs. So I started out by taking inventory.

As it turned out there would be only one casualty of moving to 64 bit - my Microsoft Fingerprint Reader. This had been the stickler for a long time. Microsoft wouldn't give a clear message on whether they would be creating the software to support the reader on 64 bit. In fact the packaging on the Fingerprint Reader I got Adrian at Christmas gives no indication that it works only on 32 bit Vista! When Microsoft finally came out and said that they weren't ever going to make a 64 bit version there was nothing left to stand in my way!

UPEK Eikon Digital Privacy Manager(Luckily he had found the UPEK Eikon reader, which I think works even better than the Microsoft one, although the software takes a little getting used to.)

Installing Vista 64
Vista 64 needs a full installation (you can't upgrade from 32 bit). Because of this and a lack of time I installed Vista 64 on a new hard drive. The drive with 32 bit OS (and my data) is visible from 64-bit (and vice versa) so choosing which OS I want to use is just a matter of hitting F8 to bring up the boot loader on start up and choosing the appropriate drive. This made it really easy to bring my data across to the 64 bit install, making it a very fast transition overall.

And the extra RAM? It's amazing. My system just flies!

Hardware with 64 bit Vista Drivers
Anyway, here's a list of hardware that I've found works just fine on 64 bit. (Hopefully if you're contemplating making the jump, it might save you some time!)

Wacom Cintiq

April 17th, 2008

Wacom Cintiq 12 inch This is the first post in my Wacom Cintiq 12WX experience.

First off, I've had it now for three weeks and I'm truly in love with it. I must admit that while I had wanted to get my hands on one of these for a long time, I could not see past the logistical problem of physically fitting it on my desk (alongside my existing dual monitors) and a bit of a pang at the thought of parting with my Wacom Intuous 3, which has been my trusty friend for a while now. I'd watched a few youtube videos about people using their Cintiqs, which really excited me, but several owners mentioned their old Intuos tablets sitting in the corner.

So it was with some mixed feelings that I greeted the Cintiq when it finally arrived. These were quickly swept away once I had it set up and started using it. It's a very natural creative experience. There is no guesswork required. Unlike the Intuos, you do not need to guage the your position on the screen against your pen's position on the tablet - (obviously!) your pen is right where you are looking. (This does take a little calibration at the start but once it's setup you don't think about it again.)

I was a little nervous about pressing on the screen at the start, but it's robust enough to use reasonable pressure when drawing.

The Cintiq has ten buttons which can be used for various functions and Photoshop modifiers. The top left button is set initally to transfer from the Cintiq screen to the main monitor when you want to use one of the Photoshop tools, pallettes etc. I found this cumbersome already having dual monitors. Switching back to a mouse was also troublesome, so I quickly reattached my 'old' Intuos tablet (which works just fine off the same driver and didn't require any further installation). I set the Intuos to work off the two 'real' monitors so now I only need to move my pen from the Cintiq to the Intuos and my cursor is back out of the drawing area and I can operate my PC/Photoshop normally. The pen that comes with the Cintiq works with the Intuos (and vice versa) so I don't even need to switch pens. It's really intuitive and doesn't interupt my workflow at all.

With eight the buttons on the Intuos that gives me 18 buttons which I altered to match the Photoshop functions that I use most frequently. (I will write more about that next time.)

As for my concerns about fitting the Cintiq and two monitors on my desk, it's worked out really well. The Cintiq tucks in sideways when I'm not using it, providing a third monitor for general PC use. It's handy for watching TV or DVDs, or for keeping work applications (like FTP or reference material) running visibly but still not taking up valuable main screen real estate.

I truly, madly deeply love the Wacom Cintiq!! (AND its best buddy the Intuos 3!)

If you have any questions about using the Cintiq, so ask and I'll do my best to give you answers.

Crysis “Kicked from Server”

March 16th, 2008

Since applying the latest 1.2 Crysis version I've been continually getting "kicked from server" messages. Running a dedicated server on a network game (of which I'm the network admin!) this is rather annoying. I've found loads of posts on various forums about this happening to other people playing online games but haven't found any relating to network games. Rebooting both servers and clients helps sometimes. Reinstalling helped, for a while.

Gadget Girl Dilemma

March 1st, 2008

Apple 16 GB iPod touch I weighed my handbag the other day. It weighed 8 lbs!
Apart from the 'normal' weight of keys, glasses, lipstick and hairbrushes, my bag also contained all my essential kit for the digital life of a writer/journalist/techie/web developer on the road:

  • Camera: Coolpix L2
  • GPS: Garmin nivi 300
  • MP3:Apple iPod Touch 16GB
  • MP3: Creative Zen Touch 20GB
  • Phone: Motorola Razr 3i
  • PDA: HP HX2790
  • Sound Recorder: Olympus DS-50
  • 30GB storage on various USB keys, WOS, etc. Spare SB, flash cards
  • Griffin iTrip
  • Shure E500PTH Sound Isolating Earphones
  • Bluetooth earpiece
  • PowerMonkey plus attachments
  • What could I leave out?
    First off, there's lots of duplication there ... apart from the obvious 2 MP3 players, the Olympus is also an MP3, so is the Garmin nuvi and so is the PDA. My phone is an MP3 too actually. Likewise the ipod Touch handles appointments, tasks contacts and email. I can watch movies on it, provided I buy them from Apple. The PDA however lets me watch whatever I copy to it. The iPod has some of my music, whereas the Zen has a whole lot more. I can't envisage leaving either one behind. The Garmin is great for listening to music or Audible books in the car, but I'm not seriously going to carry it round at the gym! Likewise the PDA or the Olympus.

    The phone is also a camera, but the quality isn't good enough for photo journalism purposes (well neither is the Nikon, but it's good quality for incidentals - if I know I'm going out to get shots I carry an SLR).

    The PDA is also a voice recorder, but the quality isn't anywhere near production quality (whereas the Olympus is good enough for capturing sound effects as well as a dictaphone - again if I know I'm going out to capture sound I load for bear with my trusty Shure mic).

    So I'm stuck. I can't figure out what to take out of there.

    Every so often I ponder the value of convergence devices, but each time I'm further stumped just what I would go for. I mean, would I want Garmin making my phone? Can a phone camera give good enough quality to be my every day carry? How about combining a phone and a PDA? (Would it work reliably as just a phone? Quick and straightforward, yet giving me all the flexibility of my PDA?) Would I trust a phone manufacturer's onboard GPS to guide me when I'm lost?

    I've asked a bunch of friends what they would do. But none of my girlfriends are gadgetgeeks and none of my guy friends have a purse to carry their kit in. They just fill their pockets with what kit they think they'll need when they leave the house in the morning, or more often than not leave it behind. (Apparently gadgets have a grace period when they are new and shiny and braggable during which time they'll get carried every day, but after the novelty has worn off - or everyone else has one - then it'll just be a selective carry if and when it's needed.)

    But me, I'm not like that. As a kid I used to feel bad for all the teddy bears that I didn't choose to cuddle each night, so I'd end up cuddling them all. Nothing's changed, I guess ...

    If you have any ideas on convergence devices or if you're a gadget girl who's successfully made the giant leap of leaving something behind, let me know!

    Don’t look a gift horse in the Mac…

    October 28th, 2007

    Mac MiniI just read Adrian’s blog on ZDNet and to my surprise he’s talking about HIS new Mac Mini – which is kinda weird because he bought it as an anniversary gift for ME yesterday.  Hmmmm… it’s bit like when Homer Simpson bought Marge a gift of a new bowling ball (complete with the name Homer on it).

    Well it’s the thought that counts – right???

    I’ve used a Mac and the Mac OS (via Pear PC) before but it’s a new feeling being a Mac owner (well assuming that I am that is – I may just be the wife of one!?)

    iPod TouchI’m also excited about the iPod Touch I got this week.  Actually I bought one for Adrian as an anniversary gift. Well, I knew i’d be jealous of his if I didn’t have one so I got one for myself at the same time (which is what Homer would have done if he was smart – or a woman!) 

    I love the iPod Touch – it’s great for browsing the web and the only real gripe I’ve had with it on the usability front at least was the tedious and arduous task of typing in the wifi connection password on that fiddly little keyboard (which was particularly hard because the characters are obfuscated – with no way to unhide them – plus the onscreen keyboard feedback shows capital letters even when you’re typing lower case).  

    The screen keyboard mostly works ok with my fingernails because several of them have broken off lately and are hence short at the moment making typing possible.  It does get a lot of fingerprints on (at least they’re not ear prints like the iPhone). 

    As for the iPod Touch being an MP3 player I’ve no experience of that at all yet because I can’t get it to sync with my PC.  I don’t think it’s a problem with the iPod though, just an iTunes transfer timeout, but I’m not really sure at this point.

    Now if only I had a Mac, I could try syncing it with that…