Ruts and Routines

Ever feel stuck in a rut, as if you were navigating the same maze every day? Or feel so routinized you wonder if scheduling some time for spontaneity would work?

Don’t get me wrong — routine is a necessary thing. Without it we’d not be able to hold down jobs, stick with exercise plans, or pursue active interests.

But routine gets on my nerves once in awhile. Maybe because I’m a Gemini and need constant change. If you believe in that kind of thing,

I get up, often quite early, grab some breakfast, slip a computer into my backpack, grab a camera, and head out for the first half of my morning walk. I walk to Starbucks, trying to make the walk more interesting by changing my route a little each day. But there are only so many ways to reasonably walk there.

Once there, I get a grande mild (sometimes a bold), set up my computer, and start my writing session. I like keeping a regular writing schedule and have been averaging 1000 words a day in my journal, plus anything extra. I’ve got a strange fiction story on the go. I have some essay ideas I want to work on. I like adding new content to my blog. It’s all good … except …

It can begin to feel boring too. One of the troubles with being retired is that I have no sense of the days of the week. Monday’s pretty much the same as Saturday, except I put out the garbage on Mondays. The main way I track the week is via my pill case. Let’s see — Wednesday’s compartment is empty so this must be Thursday.

I’ve started playing with my right-brain/left-brain balance just to shake up the neurons. Some while ago I began using my mouse left-handed. That took a bit of adjustment. My motor skills with left-handed mouse have improved considerably.

Today I took up drawing again, with a twist. I’m not gifted anyway so I figured it really doesn’t matter which hand I use so I’ve starting drawing left handed (I’m right handed of course). Yeah, it feels weird. But the drawings, I’m sad to say, don’t look the worse for it.

That’s the challenge, for me. Keeping a good, solid routine of cardio exercise, writing, photography, and being with the family, while staying fresh at the same time.

I saw my dentist in Toronto yesterday. That was actually exciting. I got to smell the city air (ugh), watch the traffic, ride the subway, and have coffee with a friend. Then ride the GO Train home and have dinner with Marion and Trevor. It was like coming home after work.

After dinner we clean up, settle into our couch, check our email, then watch some DVD’s. Season Three, Disc One of CSI: Crime Scene Investigations arrived in the mail. We’re also watching Battlestar Galactica and Dexter Season Three.

After a couple of episodes (three if we’re hooked) we’ll usually retire to bed and read for some time. I’m currently re-reading Pratchett’s Time Thief. Marion is plowing through some mystery fiction from the library. I have a high stack of reading material to get to.

You know, put like that, being in a routine doesn’t sound half bad. Maybe it’s the appreciating of the routine I need to work on.

Dell Mini 10v

Dell Mini 10v

A few weeks ago my son Trevor became interested in having a netbook for his writing so I gifted him with my blue Acer Aspire One. I really liked it so it wasn’t easy to part with, but I had in the back of my mind that I would hold off getting another unit for myself until I saw what Apple might or might not be offering in the space between the iPod Touch and the Macbook.

I figured I could get by fairly easily with my Palm TX and my Neo as portable writing devices. I like and use both, but within three days I was missing the Acer rather badly. Once you’ve had the experience of toting around a small but fully functional general computer, it’s a hard habit to break.

What did me in was seeing an ad for a Dell Mini 10v on sale. I checked the specs and liked what I saw: Windows XP, 1GB RAM, 160GB HD, slightly larger keyboard than the Acer, and a 10″ LCD screen. The sale unit included the essential 6-cell battery, so I ordered one, in Alpine White, so I could half-pretend it was a Macbook.

I also checked the netbook compatibility list for Ubuntu Linux Netbook Remix and saw that the Dell Mini 10v is one of the most Linux compatible netbooks on the list.

When it came in I was on assignment with two articles for the Photo Life Buyer’s Guide to be published in the fall. I immediately loaded WhizFolders into the Mini and got to work with it. I filed both stories yesterday and now can turn my Mini into my personal machine.

I’ll use GParted to resize the Windows partition of the HD so I can install the Ubuntu Netbook Remix alongside Windows as a dual-boot option. As a writing machine for essays and fiction, I prefer the Linux interface to the Windows one. It’s less cluttered and I like Gedit, with colour tweaks, better than any of my Windows text editors.

Aside from a somewhat loud spacebar key, the keyboard is relatively quiet. It’s large enough that typing is very easy. I didn’t need an adjustment period, as I did with the Acer.

I’ve no doubt Apple will come up with something exciting, or at least interesting, but it will have come too late for me. And whatever they offer, I know it will be much more expensive than my Dell Mini 10v, so once again Apple loses its chance to gain me as a customer.

And to tell the truth, I can’t imagine a netbook that’s significantly better than the Dell Mini. I’m a happy camper.

Now, as Mur Lafferty says, “I should be writing.”

See ya later.

Apple, What’s Next?

Apple_touchbook (by StarbuckGuy)

Rumours about Apple’s next product have been swirling about like a London fog, obscuring more than it enlightens. But one thing the rumours have in common is that the new device will have a 10″ screen.

So what will it be? An oversized iPod Touch? That’s one take making the rounds. But who would want an iPod that big, even if it had a phone in it? The whole point of an iPod is portability and pocketability. I can’t see this one playing out, though I anticipate that whatever it is, it will have Touch technology built in.

Another rumour is that it will be a tablet-based eBook reader (with iPod Touch features of course). This is tantalizing. With California mandating the use of eBooks for high-school math and science courses, we could be on the verge of a change in how texbooks are used in education. Or not.

It could also be a competitor to the relatively successful Kindle 2 from Amazon. There’s an attraction to eBooks on a good reader. The Apple version would offer colour, but would it be as easy on the eyes as the Kindle?

Another rumour is that the new Apple will be a netbook based around iPod Touch technology. In this instantiation it would be a clamshell design, complete with keyboard. If I had my wish, this is the rumour I’d like to see come true, but doubt has been cast on this one. Insiders say that Jobs doesn’t want to make a Mac clamshell netbook, that it’s not forward looking.

I’ve seen one mockup (at top of this blog) that shows it as a tablet PC (iPod Touch style) with a big keyboard displayed on the tablet itself. Neat, technologically, but any writer can tell you that you can’t type on a virtual keyboard on a glass surface for long. It might be good for a few notes, or a quick email, but it’s not a serious alternative to a real keyboard.

So, what will it be? My fear is that Apple, meaning Jobs himself, will not want to clutter the lines of the new device with external connectors, and so far he has resisted putting in BlueTooth receivers for external hardware.

The bottom line for me is this: I’m a writer and need to use a device with a real keyboard. If Apple offers this device with an external keyboard, in a clamshell, or off to the side, I’m in. If the keyboard is virtual, and there’s no way of connecting an external keyboard, I’m out.

My Palm TX with Palm Bluetooth wireless folding keyboard has shown me how useful a portable writing device can be. This kind of functionality, combined with iPod Touch capabilities and software, would be a writer’s dream. Will the dream become reality?