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Non-Writing Update: Week Ending April 13, 2013

April 17, 2013

Another week, in many respects similar to the last.  Same busy work schedule and busy home-life schedule and all that.

One of the events of greatest import last week was the arrival of Pollenmageddon.  It’s an annual disaster of epic proportions around here, where everything below tree-height that’s standing still for more than ten minutes at a time gets painted yellow.  Because pollen counts: astronomical.  My city is notorious for being bad for allergy sufferers.

The effect of this is that one of the regular home-maintenance types of projects for this week was starting to clean up from the polleny mess.  I started by sweeping out our screened back porch and spraying down the porch furniture.  We still have to finish the back deck and the front porch, as well as our driveway.

I tried to grill out again, this weekend, but ran into a small problem: I’d run out of fuel for the job.  So I’ll have to pick up some more in the coming weeks. Dear Wife and I both enjoy when I grill out.

While I still didn’t write anything this week – as is obvious by my doing a “non-writing” update instead of a writing update – I did begin work on a project that will hopefully better enable me to write in the near future. 

Sound cryptic?

Don’t worry.  I’m gonna break it down.

You see, one of the biggest reasons why I’m not able to find time to write these days – second, really, after being the father of a toddler and an infant with a very busy full-time day-job – is that I’m not able to take advantage of what, to me, are the mythical “fifteen minutes” that everyone says you need to find here and there.  In theory I have the same 15-30 minute micro-opportunities for writing that any other writer has.  (They’re not good for my writing – I do my best work when I’m an hour or longer groove of writing, but I almost never get whole blocks of time like that, these days.  Writing in 15-minute bursts wreaks havoc on my pacing – as those of you who may perchance volunteer to alpha-read “The Story of V” will undoubtedly discover.)  In practice, increasingly, I’m completely incapable of taking advantage of those short bursts of free time.

The reason?  My computer.

It sounds like a cop out.  But I’m serious.

My computer is somewhere in the 5-6ish year-old territory.  That’s oldish for a computer, but that’s not a killer.  If it runs and does what it’s supposed to do, then good on it.  Except, it doesn’t run very well.  I’m running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista on my machine (I can already hear some of you groaning from here).  Vista alone already doesn’t have a terribly good reputation for memory management.  That’s part of the problem.  The 32-bit part means there’s a hard upper-limit to how much memory the system can even use.  In other words, there’s a point at which adding memory will do nothing to speed up the machine.  What’s more, my 100+ GB hard-drive is about 95% full (family photos and music files take up a large chunk, and Windows system files that I can’t make  heads or tales of take up the next biggest chunk).  Now, I didn’t take any OS theory classes when I got my minor in Comp Sci all those years ago, but I think it works something like this: the OS has to keep a cache record of the system addresses for all those files.  And that means that just keeping track of what I’ve already saved on the system takes up a significant chunk of the system’s resources.

Yeah, I’m not an expert here, despite the aforementioned 10-year-old Comp Sci undergrad minor.  Regardless, whether my description of the causes is wholly accurate or only marginally reflective of an alternate version of reality, the net result is the same: it literally takes anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes just to boot up.  From the time the desktop first appears, I’m still locked out for several more minutes (this is part of that magnificently insane boot-up time).  Opening each individual program or file (I keep open several Word documents while writing: my outline, my current scene, the previous scene, and any prior scenes that relate to the current action so I can fact-check myself as I go) takes several minutes each.  By the time I’d finally be ready to start writing… I’d have lost all but a tiny fraction of that supposed 15-30 minutes of free time.  If I had a couple hours of free continguous writing time, I could live with this.  But I don’t.

So what am I doing about it? No, not buying a new computer.  (I wish.)  But I’ve had a mostly-empty external USB hard-drive for years.  And now I’m offloading as much of my actual stuff as I can.  (Not much I can do about the massive number of windows system files which, I suspect, come from way to many freaking updates.)  I’ve dumped my photos folder, which includes all my family photos as well as a large number of very large GIMP files where I’d been working on some world maps for one of my fantasy novel projects.  I’m clearing out my documents.  Next up: my music files.  I believe this will give me back several minutes every time I turn it on (or wake it up, as I often don’t turn the computer all the way off, having been under the apparently mistaken impression that the computer would boot faster from Sleep than it does from Off).  If I can reclaim even five minutes from any given boot up, that might give me just enough time to actually get some writing done.  We’ll see in the weeks ahead.

So that’s life at the Casa Chez Watkins.  How are things down at Casa Chez Tu?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2013 3:38 pm

    I had the same problem! My laptop is of similar age, and didn’t have the juice to support Vista. Switching back to XP and running nothing on it but MS Word makes it pretty fast, though it’s still as heavy as a brick, and won’t hold a charge.

    No writing updates here. Probably nor for April. Work crazy. Life crazy. Probably no blogging either for a little while. *sigh*

    • April 18, 2013 9:20 am

      I don’t know if I can switch back to XP at this point. But I do use a few other programs besides Word as important tools in my writing process.

      I hope life gets a little less crazy for you, soon. Good luck!

  2. April 18, 2013 9:12 am

    I’m no expert either, but my question is whether the computer runs okay once the long boot-up is done. If so, then the problem is at least partly in the startup sequence. Two suggestions for that:

    1) Google “msconfig for vista” and you’ll see instructions for how to use msconfig to see what’s being started when the computer boots up. There may well be things you can disable, which will make the computer boot up faster and run better in general.

    2) The delay once the desktop appears may be because something is being downloaded (virus definitions?). If you’re just booting up to write, try booting with the internet disabled.

    Clearing off space on the hard drive will help, too, but I do hope you have all those music files and family photos backed up somewhere. These days there are a lot of online storage places where you can get at least 5Gig file storage for free. Hard drives do die, after all (the computer I’m writing this on has a dead hard drive, as a matter of fact).

    • April 18, 2013 9:37 am

      Yeah, I’m backing those pics and music files up. Right now I’m putting them on that external drive, but I actually have two such drives, so I’m planning to back up in duplicate.

      As for the slowness: no, it’s not just when booting up. It’s also when, for example, opening new files or saving files I’ve worked on. It shouldn’t take forever to save a Word document. A couple seconds, tops. It takes several orders of magnitude longer than that to save.

      I’ve also ditched my virus scanner. I use this machine less and less for internet use, so that’s not really necessary, and I know the virus scanner can take up a lot of resources. (Woe be unto me if I’m trying to write during a regularly scheduled system scan.)

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