Saturday, April 26, 2008

Computer blues, thoughts on the JKR/RDR trial, hours less at work (is it me or the economy?), Nim's Island, etc.

I told Mum tonight how the people at the place I took my computer to yesterday (which is within walking distance of my house) said that my laptop battery was dead and I needed to get a new one. But this discussion went nowhere. Mum pointed out that I have already replaced the battery twice only to have both batteries fail to work properly.

I have taken my computer to Staples, Best Buy, and a couple independent computer places now, and nobody can solve my battery problem. It's very frustrating.

My computer has had quite a few problems in its about 2 1/2 year existence in my possession, after I received it (with "much rejoicing" as Monty Python would say) for my 21st birthday. First, I had a problem with the battery not charging. It did work, but it would not charge using my cord. I ended up having to borrow my mom's laptop cord all the time. I took the computer to an independent place and learned that my cord had developed a short on the end that plugs into the laptop, and I needed a new cord. Ok, no big (as Kim Possible would say). I dole out $60, have them order a new cord for me, and yay, problem solved.

Then there was slowness and programs that would freeze (especially Movie Maker), a problem I still have (and which my mother blames on all the big files on my computer...uh, yeah, ok). Then for a time, my internet didn't work at all on my laptop. But I solved that problem with the help of my friend Gilbert/Oberon's Servant from Tech Links, with whom I had real-time voice contact via a podcast we were trying to create with Tech Links's admin Wartonchan. I don't think I ever found out precisely why I couldn't get online though.

Multiple reboots later, my computer is still slow and doesn't run on battery. Time for a new computer? Probably - seeing as at this point it's pointless to spend any more time and money peddling my problem to various places. Not even Toshiba (the makers of my current computer) is useful; their Tech Support has never been of any help to me, and the most recent times I called, we talked and then they wouldn't go any further with their advice after a while unless I paid them.

My main questions now are, if I get a new computer, what kind should I get? How much should I spend? What do I want out of it? Should I switch to Mac since (a) it's rather popular among people my age, (b) Mac has cool programs (like the iLife suite) that Windows lacks, and (c) the current Mac OS is supposedly a lot more stable right now than Windows Vista?

Best answers to these questions right now: How much should I spend? Not too much. I don't need a ton of bells and whistles. I need a decent amount of memory and storage space - probably a lot more than I think, given my surprisingly large song library in iTunes. But not a lot of unnecessary frills.

What do I want out of it? Speed for one thing. A good amount of memory (my current computer has 55 GB -- which is nothing compared to current laptop models). A battery that actually works (and has good battery life - my current battery, if it worked, would work for 3 hours, which beats the 1-hour original battery). Good sound & video quality, especially since my laptop is usually also my DVD player. Also maybe a nice-sized screen (mine right now is 17").

What kind should I get? I'm pretty sure I will not get Toshiba again, even though Greenpeace voted the Toshiba Tecra A9-S9013 as one of their top "green" laptop models (according to an article I read today in a local newspaper). Like I said, their Tech Support is very much not helpful. Plus, since my battery is obviously not the cause of my battery problem, the only other culprit is the computer itself, and if that's so, I'm gonna steer away from buying another product by the same company. I know that every model's different, but still I feel a bit of caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware") about it.

I would love to get a Tablet PC - probably a convertible (laptop converts to tablet) to save my neck. But they're hard to find (at least where I've looked) and they're more expensive than regular laptops.

I might go with Dell, since their prices are good, and they have a good reputation for great customer service and support. (Not to mention I can get 12% off their already low prices through my labor union).

I'll need time to think this through, obviously. If I do decide to get a new laptop, I'd like to do it before I start at Cal State this fall, if possible. I may see if they sell laptops there, since schools tend to get good deals on computers and computer software. (Yay! Photoshop for $200!).

Oh and the last question - Mac or Windows? I prefer Windows because I am familiar with it, despite its tendency to crash often, among other problems. However, we know from recent media (including the Mac commercials, featuring Drew Barrymore's boyfriend as the "Mac guy") that Vista, the new Windows OS, isn't doing so well. My brother (who has a Dell laptop with Vista on it) doesn't seem to have had any problems with it, though.

Macs are definitely popular among college students like myself. I have seen probably more of the cute little white MacBooks at my school than other laptops. A nice perk to Mac is that its operating systems seem to have done consistently better than Windows in the long run. And programs that are Mac-only -- like the handy-dandy iLife suite that is included with every Mac computer -- are nice to have. I know a lot of podcasters I've heard have Macs - probably cause since iLife features both an audio recording program (GarageBand) and the ever-popular podcast haven, iTunes, having a Mac works in their favor.

One frustrating thing about the iLife suite is the simple fact that it is just that, a program suite. You can't buy the programs separately - whereas you can with Microsoft Office (Windows's signature program suite). Frankly, the only program I'm majorly wanting is the wondrous and glorious iMovie. The latest version of this movie editing program can export your videos directly to YouTube (cool). The other programs I don't really need - iPhoto (a photo organizing program) doesn't seem all that cool. iWeb is a What You See is What You Get webpage maker, equivalent perhaps to programs like Adobe Dreamweaver. That kind of program is pretty useless to me since I know enough HTML to create a decent site all by myself. I have iTunes already, having downloaded it from Apple's website. GarageBand is cool, but I really like Audacity for my audio recording. It works great, and it's freeware, which is always nice. iDVD I don't necessarily need, though it would be nice to be able to rip DVD's to get footage for my videos sometimes.

Ok, time to move on. I gotta try to get to bed earlier tonight to make up for my 4-hour-and-50-minute night last night. I've totally forgotten about dinner till now. I'm going to go make my Lean Pocket, put my laundry in, and come back.

Ok, I'm back.

Next topic: I listened yesterday to PotterCast's podcast on the lawsuit between J.K. Rowling and RDR Books (MuggleCast did one too; I started listening to it on the way home today but haven't finished it yet). Basically, for those who don't know about this, here is the situation: This guy named Steve Vander Ark is a big Harry Potter fan and head of a major encyclopedia-like website on Harry Potter called The Harry Potter Lexicon. He somehow along the line recently decided to publish the Lexicon in book form, and RDR Books liked the idea and signed a book contract with him. Unfortunately, Rowling, along with Warner Brothers (who owns the movie rights to the series), viewed this as a violation of copyright and expressed their disapproval to the parties concerned, and eventually filed a lawsuit against RDR Books. They tried to settle things outside of court, but this proved to not work out, so the trial went to court this week.

The crux of the whole trial is how the "fair use doctrine" (which dictates just how much you can "fairly use" in your work from another person's work that is under copyright) will be interpreted in this case. If a right to "fair use" can be proven to belong to Steve Vander Ark, then that will make his side even stronger.

Being a frequent user of the web Lexicon, I was uncertain how to respond to all the brouhaha (don't you love that word?) surrounding this lawsuit, even after hearing the details on PotterCast.

After some contemplation of the matter today at work though, I came to a realization. Melissa on PotterCast had pointed out that if RDR wins this case, it won't just have a big impact on the Harry Potter fandom in particular, but on writer's rights in general. Seeing as Melissa is writing a book right now (on the Harry Potter fandom, no less), she must know very well how attached a writer becomes to his or her ideas and words. And then I thought, I'm a writer too. What will life be like for just-starting-out writers like me if RDR wins? Copyright law could totally change, for better or worse, as a result of this case.

And yet, writers deserve to have their ideas protected. It's in the Constitution, for goodness sake! It's in a clause currently known as the Copyright Clause or the Intellectual Property Clause, which appears in Article I, Section 8, a section naming the powers of Congress. The clause says:

"[The Congress shall have Power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries..."

After realizing what impact it could have on other authors, even up-and-coming ones like me, I sympathize with JKR. I, like a lot of fans of the books, think she is an absolute genius because of her unique writing style and the rich world she has created through the Harry Potter series. Such amazing writing deserves to be protected.

I am thinking now about the stories I've written - both those I can't find anymore and the ones I still have. I can't imagine having the world of Walden - which I've described richly in the "Walden Chronicle" stories I've written and in my notes on my Walden novel - taken from me by a copyright violation, nor the world of the constantly revised Lightning Girl saga. As a writer, things like that that you create are almost real to you, almost tangible, and yet intangible in the way they are ingrained in your heart, your mind, your soul even. To lose them or have them threatened would be very upsetting.

I have been writing seriously since I was 11, more than 10 years. Granted, it's been very on-and-off. But I really love storytelling, and composing stories comes very naturally to me. And I don't like to give up on stories - I've been revising the Lightning Girl story since high school! Not to mention that I think my talent for writing is a gift from God, and that makes it even more important.

I was recently reading some good books on writing, and in a couple of them, which featured essays by writers and writing teachers, the essay writers would sometimes reference their own works and talk about them in a way that made you know that - despite any successes, failures, or struggles - they really loved what they were doing and were into the stories they create. I think this is true of any author. Tolkien loved his Hobbits and his Elves and all the other creatures of Eä (the universe in which Middle-Earth exists). In fact, he loved the Elves so much that he devoted pretty much an entire book to them - The Silmarillion, probably the best LOTR-related book aside from the original trilogy. And he created their two languages (Quenya and Sindarin) himself!

So, in short, I sympathize with Rowling now. I'd want my writing protected too. So I want her to win.

Moving from Rowling's work to my own current hours at work have been less of late. I have 24 hours (the least they can give me) this week, packed into 3 8-hour days, on the weekend no less. And next week, it's the same. But I don't think it's just me. Everybody's hours are being cut, with the exception perhaps of certain checkers and other people that are locked into 40 hours a week. So I'm not the only one. It's not certainly because we don't get business (as was the reason for budget cuts at my last job). We get a lot of business, more so on some days than others, but still quite a bit. But the economy stinks right now, and labor budgets are tight. And that's the worst thing about it - you have a lot of people working barely any hours at the job they have, resulting perhaps in a desire to obtain another job, which in an economic slump like this (or "stagflation" as they have called this current slump) is going to be pretty hard. And with the high gas prices, it may be hard for many people just to get to work since lots of people don't want to pay high prices at the pump. (This is where taking public transit comes in handy - although buses need gas too). So, as much as I'd like to switch jobs before starting university this fall, I may need to just sit back and wait out the slump, since I can because I don't have a lot of necessary monthly expenses - just rent, my cell phone bill, and my bus pass.

The even worse thing is that not only is America's economy messed up, but I happen to live in California, whose state budget is perhaps even more messed up than the general economy, due to bad government spending and inefficient methods being used to try to deal with the deficit and revitalize California's economy.


On Wednesday, I finally got around to seeing the movie I'd wanted to see, a movie called Nim's Island. It's about a girl who lives on an island with only her marine biologist dad and her animal friends for company. Her dad goes off on a sailing expedition and gets caught in a storm and left drifting out at sea. When Nim can't reach her dad, she wishes she had the help of her favorite adventure novel hero, Alex Rover, to get her dad back. She thinks she has hit some luck when someone named "Alex Rover" e-mails her dad about an article he wrote for National Geographic. They correspond, and Nim eventually asks Rover to come and help her find her dad before a cruise ship/tour company takes over the island to make a resort. What Nim doesn't know is that her correspondent is actually the author of the Alex Rover books - who is also named Alex Rover, but short for Alexandra. In short, she is female, though her hero is male. Alexandra Rover is a nervous wreck - she's got writer's block, she's on an obsessive diet of Progresso soup, she has extreme agoraphobia and hasn't left her apartment in 16 weeks (even to get the mail!), and she seems obsessed with cleanliness, as shown by her fondness for Purell hand sanitizer. While Nim is mad at Alexandra when they first finally meet, they grow closer, and Alexandra ends up staying on the island.

Overall, I thought it was really, really good.


Well, it's late, so I better start getting ready for bed. Erev niflah! ("Have a wonderful evening!" in Hebrew).

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