26 May 2011

The Cloud Is Your Friend

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
How do you back up your work? Can you access it no matter where you are?

Most people will have a copy of their WIP on their home hard drive. Perhaps you email yourself bits and pieces when you're at work (not that I would ever do that!) or email the whole thing so you can work on it on other computers. It's a bit of a hassle though, because not only do you have to keep sending and retrieving it - you end up with multiple versions. The danger is that you'll open (or delete!) the wrong one. Email is an excellent resource for holding your files at key milestones (i.e. each completed draft), but don't use it to ferry your work around as you're working on it.

I've been burned by flash drives (aka USB sticks) a couple of times now, and I've sworn off them. They just stop working. Suddenly. With no warning at all. When you've done hours of good work that's not saved anywhere else. Please heed my advice - use them for an additional back-up if you must, but do not use them to transport changes to your work around.

What I do now is utilise my friend, The Cloud. For the uninitiated, The Cloud is made up of all the millions of servers which host the internet. There's an infinite amount of space that's got unlimited back-up servers, so it's pretty reliable. And you should be able to get all the space you need for free. The tool I use is called Dropbox. Once you've downloaded it on to one machine/device, you just either drop/save stuff into a normal folder, or upload it to the internet from anywhere. It works on mobile devices, which means I can read my MS Word WIP on my iPhone on the train. You could be in Timbuktu, and as long as you have the internet, your files are there. One thing to be careful of if you're on a limited bandwidth plan - every time you save your file to your Dropbox folder, it uploads it to the internet. This is handy, but can eat up your bandwidth with larger files. You could save your files locally during your session, and drag them back to Dropbox when you're done.

Another option is to work on your file within Google Docs. This means you can work on them even if the computer you're using doesn't have Word for example. The only downside is you'll be using Google's version of the software, so things look and behave a little differently.

Both of these tools allow you to share selected files with others if you want. This is quite useful in a business setting, as it frees up network space. You might use this function if you often share files within a household or group of friends or critique partners.

Do you use The Cloud? What other methods do you use to keep your work safe?

21 May 2011

Ngram: Words Through Time

Status update: I'm deep in editing right now. I decided to come up for air to share this random graphical deviation....
If you haven't already come across it, check out Google's Ngram Viewer. It's a tool which searches through the text of all millions of books over hundreds of years. It's a pretty powerful illustration of how art mirrors life.

Some of my favourite insights are:

14 May 2011

A Second Summer

Thanks to Il Nina, we had a long, hot, humid summer. It was a relief when the nights became a little cooler in April. A cold snap shortly thereafter brought out winter coats and jumpers. However, over the last week or so, it's as if summer was only taking a break. It's back, and we're enjoying temperatures close to twenty degrees. I'm sitting here in my shorts, with all the door and windows of the house open, letting in the sunshine and warm breeze.

One effect of this unusual weather pattern is confused plants. Yesterday my husband pointed out a little daffodil in an eastern facing garden. I was quite alarmed. The poor thing obviously thought that our winter had come and gone, and it thinks we're on to Spring. I hope that all of our bulbs don't get the same idea. They'll only die off quickly when the real cold weather hits in a week or two. For now we can enjoy the surprise treat, but hope that the rest hold off for at least another three months to brighten our cold September.

Apart from enjoy the warmer temperatures, a bonus of the second summer is that the roses (among other flowers) continue to bloom. This one has a special place in my heart because of its name, Charlotte :-)

And the cats are pretty happy about being toasty.

If you follow me on Twitter you'll know about my big news this week - we're going to have a second winter as well, as we've booked flights to Europe next year. The flights on Malaysian were basically half price. We're somewhat anxious about how we'll afford everything else, but it's just too good an opportunity to pass up. We haven't had decent skiing since we went to Canada in 2007. Of course, we'll explore a bit as well. We're flying into Frankfurt and out of Rome, so we'll go through the Black Forest, Switzerland, the Italian Lakes and the interior of Italy. We'll visit the seaside town that my husband's great-grandfather emigrated from. I'm excited beyond words, and already my head is full of travel information and possible itineraries (this does mean that there hasn't been much writing going on). We have a good nine months to plan and save for what will be the longest (and best) holiday of our married lives so far. Come next March, this will be me!

10 May 2011

When and Where the Muse Strikes You

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing”, and the bit where he talks about closing yourself in a room until you have your words written doesn’t ring entirely true with me. Yes, I need to be disciplined in order to get the story done, particularly at the business end. I need to not watch TV, surf the internet or stare lazily out of the window. But when I’m confronted with the page, I tend to get a little anxious if I’ve come to the end of an idea. I start to panic when I can’t think what should happen next.

So I decide to stop writing for the day. I go and do something else menial – making myself a smoothie, going for a walk, having a shower, cleaning the kitchen. Then, my mind starts to review the story, almost of its own accord. It starts to drift past the words I have written, and then… pow! A fragment of a conversation, a paragraph or even a whole new scene has suddenly descended on my brain. I race back to the computer (sometimes having to turn write frantic notes while I wait for it to start up again) and record my inspiration. If I had just stayed rooted in my chair, staring hopelessly at the screen, I wouldn’t be able to progress.

Quite often ideas come to me at very inconvenient times – right after we’ve turned the light out at night, or when I’m driving home from work.

King does go on to say that he gets many of his ideas out of the blue when he’s doing other things, but he doesn’t seem to accept that you can’t make yourself be productive sometimes just sitting in a room alone with your computer.

It’s like that with many things in life, no? It’s so easy to fall asleep in the middle of the day when you should be cleaning the toilet, but not so easy at 4am when you’re stressed out about work or family. If you have a bit of spare cash, you can never find anything you want to buy, but when you’re up against it clothes and books start calling your name.

I suppose it’s just one of those ways that life makes things interesting, if not a little frustrating. So, you tell me. Do you need to get away from your WIP in order to generate fresh ideas? Or am I just really unusual?

04 May 2011

Today I Lost My Yum Cha Virginity

Image: chokphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I was brought up on traditional English/European food. Italian is my favourite. I think I had Chinese takeaways once with friends as a teenager, but apart from that casual eating out involved fish and chips, pizza or Georgie Pie. I'd never had Indian food until I worked late one evening at my first proper job and my boss insisted on ordering some for the group. Since then at work functions I've had more Indian and some Thai. I think that pretty much sums up my experiences with Asian cuisine.

Before today, I had heard of 'yum cha' or 'yum char' a couple of times, but never tried it. A colleague I knew several years ago looked at me like I was from another planet when I told her I'd never had it. She went frequently, always building it up for days beforehand, and then exclaiming over it afterwards.

Today we went to Grand Harbour to farewell a colleague. I didn't attempt to research yum cha before going, prefering to discover it for myself. I was relieved when someone else asked for forks, because I suck with chopsticks. The table was laid with small plates, bowls, little cups and a huge 'lazy susan' style disc in the middle of the table.

So what is yum cha? It literally means "drink tea", and is like the Chinese version of a high tea. It's basically like tapas, but you don't get to choose what is brought to the table and most of it is either sticky dumplings or deep fried. Everything seems to have either seafood (mainly prawns) or pork in it, mixed with vegetables. It's not spicy. Waitresses come around with a range of dishes and you either accept or refuse. It's not always obvious what everything is. Everyone shares dishes as there are three or small four portions in each dish. The lazy susan goes round and round, and you have to tell your tablemates which ones you want to try if there's only one dish of that item. This article describes the custom well (Wikipedia says some people call it 'dim sum').

Did I like it? Well, I wouldn't go that far. It was sort of bland, with strange textures. I had trouble swallowing some items. One half-moon shaped dumpling filled mainly with snow peas was tasty. The tea was okay. Would I do it again of my own free accord? Probably not, but I wouldn't protest if another similar situation presented itself.

As the pace of the little dishes slowed, I looked around and thought, "Well, I can write about yum cha in a book now." So not a total waste!

Do you yum cha?