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Let’s Be Honest: There Were Distractions Along The Way

It was a dark and stormy night

The panacea that was, then wasn’t, then was again.

So not that long ago (though with all this sheltering in place and working from home, November sure feels like a previous epoch), I talked about my search for the perfect distraction-free writing instrument. At the time, I announced the results of my search: after much soul-searching, and even more web browsing, I had procured myself a New Old Stock Psion Netbook Pro.

(Fascinating side note: Psion trademarked the Netbook name years before the Eee PC and other makers came out with their generically named “netbooks” and there were several years of litigation involving who owned the name and whether trademark was being infringed upon. But I’ll leave those distracting details for you to look up yourself, should you be so inclined.)

At the time I wrote that blog post of discovery, I had yet to heavily use the PNP. But once I started, I came to calling it the Pain in the Neck Pro. Because, you see, the keyboard fell short of my expectations.

To be clear, I knew it would sport a less-than-standard layout and, given the form factor, would be cramped compared to my IBM Model M. I accepted those…compromises. If fact, it turns out (as will be seen shortly) that I was able to adapt to those particular idiosyncrasies.

No, the problem was the spacebar.

The physical-single-switch-only-at-the-exact-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar, otherwise known as the doesn’t-register-your-keystroke-unless-you-hit-the-dead-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar.

Now as you might suspect, it turns out that most typing of stuff, at least in the English language, makes heavy use of the ‘a’ key, the ‘i’ key, the ‘e’ key, the ‘t’ key, and, oh yeah, the effin’ spacebar!

I was constantly having to arrow back several characters to put in the space that I had typed but which had not registered. This was about 80% of the time I tried to use the spacebar.

If you let your fingers do the walking, have them skip over the spacebar

It’s a QUIRKY layout, not QWERTY.

(But hey, unlike the Freewrite and the Freewrite Traveler, at least the Psion has arrow keys!)

It was more than a little frustrating and after a few false starts, I gave up. I wrote it off as a close to $200 learning experience, but one I was too embarrassed to talk about on my blog because, well, it cost me close to $200.

Actually, significantly more than $200 if you factor in the next thing I did: I didn’t just kinda sorta give up, I whole hog gave up and bought a brand new Windows 10 convertible laptop. The one with all the distractions built in (the horrible OS itself, the web browser you feel compelled to use to look up things like the history of the word “netbook” and all the litigation surrounding it in the early ’00s, the music player you are unable to resist using to listen to the ballads about those “netbook” lawsuits, and the video depositions taken as a part of those lawsuits that you simply must watch on YouTube).

Yes, I had fallen off the wagon of focus and leapt, belly-first (and fully extended), into the packed, unsanitary public pool of distraction.

The Missus was so disgusted she took the kids and moved back in with her parents. For a couple of weeks. While it’s possible she was just visiting them, given the scope of my relapse, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, yes, I had ditched the old laptop running Linux for a fresh piece of kit.

Well, that’s not true – the old Linux machine went into the pile of old computers I’ve irrationally held onto since 1981 (“Why hello there, Timex Sinclair 1000”) because someday, maybe, I will need one of them as a backup when my main computer is hit by a super virus and the only thing preventing the evil villain who wrote said virus from taking over the world is a putty ssh connection into his mainframe from an old computer viewed so obsolete that he failed to make sure the virus could infect it.

This is also the excuse I give for why I have an old 33.6K external modem and parallel port cable.

Hey! It’s a legit excuse!

Now where was I? Oh yes, my new and shamefully distracting computer. With a stylus and touch screen and name-brand speakers and a cool, cool look that draws my attention away from the task at hand even when it is off. It was by using that shiny shiny computer that I may have accidentally searched about the Psion Netbook Pro spacebar problem and found out you can just cut out a piece of card stack, place it directly over the rubber dome under the spacebar, and solve that whole problem.

Well sh*t.

So, because I had so totally given up on and boxed up the ratty-keyboarded Psion and put it in storage and gone ahead and spent even more money on a brand new laptop…well, two things happened:

One, I was super annoyed with myself because if I had stumbled on this bit of info about the spacebar sooner, I either could have fixed the issue or, even better, avoided it entirely by buying my second runner up HPC candidate, the NEC MobilePro 900C. No matter how you looked at it, that would have been WAAAY cheaper than the new laptop.

Two, because I had the new laptop and didn’t care about the Psion anymore, I was willing to take the Psion apart and try to fix it. If I break the keyboard in the process (something I’ve done in the past when removing spacebars from keyboards), who cares? This particular HPC is already junk as far as I’m concerned.

But the spacebar came off fine, the square of card stock went in with little difficulty, and when I was done, the spacebar worked great no matter where on the key you actually struck it.

Which means I finally have my distraction-free writing tool!

And along with it, no more excuses.

Well dr*t.

Of course, the irony that I had to go down a rabbit hole (yet again) to learn about the relatively straightforward fix for my distraction-free writer is not lost on me. A fine $200 learning experience indeed!

I threw a bone up in the air and when it came back down it was a space station. It hit me on the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, this was next to me.

The USB port is on the other side. Allegedly.


This post (and the previous one) was written and edited on a Psion Netbook Pro using TextMaker for Windows CE. I will say this much: it works.

 

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I’m not old, I’m just mature and think about the future while dwelling inconsolably on the past

You know you’re getting old when:

While watching a walk-through of the latest Batman game, you can’t help but shudder at all the property damage you witness

It’s true. I was watching the Batmobile not just crashing into buildings, statues, railings, and people, but shooting them up too. And all I could think about was the amount of money it would take to repair all that devastated real estate, how much time the rioters would have to spend in the hospital, and how penniless Bruce Wayne would end up after the lawsuits if his identity ever came to light.

It shattered my suspension of disbelief and completely robbed me of my ability to enjoy the game play.

I highly recommend the next Batman game be a lot less violent. Maybe send the Dark Knight on quests to collect hugs as comfort for the loss of his parents, allowing him to finally heal and become a peaceable, contributing member of society. You could have an outline of a heart in the top right corner of the screen that slowly fills up with love as he gathers those hugs. My eyes are tearing up just thinking about it.

Or ooh! Posies! It would be really soothing, and potentially very colorful, to have Batman seeking out different varieties of beautiful, soothing flowers.

There. That idea is yours, Rocksteady Studies. Free of charge.

You are watching a walk-through of the latest Batman game rather than buying the game and playing it yourself

I’m not a poor man, but I have a mortgage to pay and kids and a spouse to support. So while I could afford to buy Arkham Knight and a game console that can play it, I have better uses for my money. Plus working full-time means I don’t have the cycles to spare to sniff out and explore all the secrets of Gotham’s underworld via trial and error. Heck, I had enough trouble getting through the seven hours or so of the walk-through, having to pause constantly to tell one of the just-out-of-kindergarten kiddos, no, this isn’t a Batman video you want to watch.

You have that problem with your kids? You send them out to play in the front yard so you can watch a video game walk-through, and all they do is keep coming back in to bug you about being hungry, or thirsty, or the cars driving by are too close, or there’s a strange man who needs to find his pet bunny and will they help? Can’t they just entertain themselves for a few hours while I watch online videos?!

Yes, help the poor man find his bunny, just GET OUT OF MY HAIR FOR AWHILE!!!!

Sheesh! You’d think kindergarteners are dependent on their parents for everything!

Camping isn’t fun any more

Instead of the joy of the outdoors, the wonder of birds singing and strange animals scrabbling around the campsite in the night, camping has become a guarantee for a back ache when I wake in the morning, no matter how many mattresses, inflatable or otherwise, that I schlep along with me. And those lovely scenic hikes? Death marches as far as my knees are concerned. And how often, due to lack of refrigerated storage and/or poor preparation, do we risk serious food-borne illness? While out in the middle of nowhere, miles from medical help?

Yes, camping is little more than an unwise flirtation with death once you get old, and having brushed up against death a few times, I can’t say she’s all that. Skip the flirtation and stick with your spouse, that’s my advice.

Preferably in the comfort of your own bed.

You have a history, good or bad, with other people

The longer you’re alive, the more likely you are to have friends (and enemies). Or friends who are now enemies, leaving you to dwell inconsolably on your past failings that led to this point. Fortunately, my enemies, if I have any, are of the type to hide their animosity so they can stay close and more easily slip a blade between my ribs.

Which is not a bad thing: I have come to terms with the fact that I am mortal only because I know I will die suddenly and blissfully ignorant.

And the good history? With friends?

That’s what you develop to make yourself feel better about getting old. Because you can’t have a good history with someone without the passage of time.

And getting that history in exchange? Makes it all worth it.

 
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Posted by on 6 July 2015 in Angst, Life, Reviews

 

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Game Review: Hidden object games Letters from Nowhere and Special Enquiry Detail: The Hand that Feeds

So in my last blog post about hidden object games, I jokingly said that I’d approached and failed to get a response from a number of game vendors to see if I could get commercial consideration for featuring their games on my blog.

Obviously a joke, right? Because who, aside from myself, cares what appears on this blog?

And to be totally honest, there are days when even I don’t care.

But, lo and behold, a representative of a gaming company commented on that blog entry!

Either A) they have really good search bots combing the internet for references, any references, no matter how obscure, to tablet games, B) my reputation as a blogger is more impressive than I realized, or C) the rep being acquainted with my wife has something to do with this.

I prefer the middle option, but I’m not kidding myself.

So now that I have their attention, I feel like I should review some games.

I’m still fairly new to the hidden object game genre, but now that I’ve started a few and finished a couple, I think I can reasonably offer my opinions on the ones I finished.

First up, Letters from Nowhere.

I really liked this game. The description implied a supernatural element, which I admit didn’t excite me, but I downloaded the free trial anyway. And was hooked.

The hidden object puzzles were challenging. Objects are not always to scale, which means when you’re looking for a postage stamp, it could conceivably be the wall of that house in the distance. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s cheating!” but I quickly came to realize that it made for a more challenging, engaging game.

The game also makes good use of color as camouflage, blending hidden objects in with like-colored items and making finding everything a real exercise in concentration.

I’m a writer, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these games have a plot driving the action. Letters from Nowhere is no exception. The plot pushes you from search location to search location, and clues found in those searches open up additional levels.

That said, as a writer I don’t just want a plot, I want a good plot. The storyline in Letters to Nowhere isn’t going to win any literary awards, and there are events where, in the real world, the protagonist would say, “Huh, I appear to have a stalker. Time to call the police” instead of “Oh, I better go to the abandoned museum by myself and search in the dark, since my apparent stalker told me to.”

I understand why the plot has weak points – going to the police, for example,  would stop the game. You have to be a bit forgiving and remember this is a game, not a book, and let that sort of thing go. It’s just a bit harder for me.

Fortunately, the quality of the puzzles more than make up for any shortcomings in the plotting.

I will point out that this game is really Letters from Nowhere 1, and when you reach the end, you don’t get all the answers. For that, you need to play Letters from Nowhere 2. I enjoyed this game immensely, but was a little annoyed that I can’t have all my answers right now.

That said, I’ve started the sequel, and so far, it’s good too…

Special Enquiry Detail: The Hand that Feeds

I downloaded the trial for this game, and when I reached the end all too soon, I was all, “Nooo! Now I have to buy it!”

The first part plays very well, and the game expands on the hidden object genre by throwing in some forensics, interaction via email, and in general seemed like a game working ‘outside the box’.

The police procedural stuff seemed a bit light on authenticity, but there wasn’t enough for me to properly gauge it in the trial.

So I bought the game.

Things went downhill from there. If you read or watch police procedural shows, you will not like this game. The main protagonists are two detectives, and they keep doing things cops can’t do. Just involved in a shoot out? We’ll do the hidden object search rather than call for backup. In the middle of an interrogation and about to get an important disclosure from a suspect? Well, the Chief just called so never mind.

It drove me crazy. And yes, I said you have to be a bit forgiving of plot when reviewing Letters from Nowhere, but this was in-your-face wrong, and just booted me out of the game every time.

The quality of the puzzles was a bit of a letdown too. Sure, there were always one or two objects that were a (reasonable) challenge to find, but most were not. In some cases, the object would be on the floor, or on a table, surrounded by nothing else. And other objects were infuriatingly hard to find, because more than two-thirds were off the screen, and you couldn’t see the first third unless you zoomed in on that portion of the screen.

The game also has puzzles, including one mini-game where you have to sneak around an apartment building. It had a very PC game feel to it, and wasn’t what I was looking for. Watching the credits at the end confirmed that impression – Special Enquiry Detail was adapted from a PC game.

Another issue I had with this game was that sometimes the dialogue screens didn’t make sense – the words were all in English, but the order and choice of words just left me confused. This was fairly rare, but each time it happened, it pulled me out of the game.

I have to give the creators kudos for trying to expand the scope and feel of the hidden object game, but can’t help but feel let down by the poor attention to detail (some broken English, inauthentic police procedural, throwing in red herring suspects out of nowhere, some text scrolling off the screen so that the last letter or two of a word was missing).

Also, I found it disconcerting that while interviewing people, such as the murder victim’s parents and best friend, that the graphic of that person was smiling and not looking utterly crushed.

The trial portion of the game did a good job of hooking me, but the rest of the game disappointed. By the end, I didn’t care who the killer was. That said, I hope the developer continues to explore expanded the scope of the hidden object game as was done here, but while paying more attention to all the other details.

I have been comped some games, and once I’ve finished them, I’ll review them here as well.

 
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Posted by on 23 March 2013 in Reviews

 

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