Your Fatal Flaw


Another blog inspired by the Yahoo Fantasy group. One of the writers there made the point of how unhappy they’ve been with the BBC version of Robin Hood. Seems the Sheriff kills off Robin’s friends left and right while Robin, who at least tries to stop him, never makes the attempt to kill him. Worse yet, a few episodes into the series Robin Hood breaks into the Sheriff’s chambers, puts a sword to the man’s throat and tells him that if harm comes to any of Robin’s people he’ll kill the Sheriff. Apparently that sunk into neither of their heads.

Constraints of the medium have been mentioned as well as labeling this problem as a huge plot hole unfilled by the writers, but I see it as another problem, and one that relates to writing. It appears to me that the writers have a promise set up in their heads that they have not fully explained or made clear to the viewer (or in the case of our writing, the reader). That promise is that Robin cannot take another life.

There is even a point in the series when the Sheriff flat out states, “We both know you’re not the killing kind.”

The question is, why? Why can’t Robin take another life? Is it his fatal flaw? Does he have a Christian view of redemption so great that he believes that even the murderous Sheriff can come back from the depths to which he has sunk? Did Robin take a life in his past that so affected him (is that the right use of affect) that he can’t bear doing it again? Did he go all Shaolin monk on us?

The problem is not so much that the character has this problem it’s that the writers aren’t making it clear to the viewer why he has this problem. It’s something that we have to keep in mind with our own writing. Fatal flaws are great for creating tension in a story, especially when that flaw is in direct opposition to the conflict resolution.

One of two things is going to have to happen, either Robin finds a way to resolve the conflict without taking the obvious route, which is kill the Sherriff, or he comes to terms with the issue that is holding him back and he finally runs the bloke through.

It’s something that we should keep in mind when crafting our stories, that notion of the character having a hand in his own troubles. If you think about it, we do that in our own lives do we not? Sure, we might blame the whole of the outside world for where we are in life, but in the end what it comes down to is our own actions, our own fatal flaws.

I for one am terrible about taking risks and committing to things. I tend to make half hearted attempts and then blame the failed outcome on some external force. In reality I’m setting myself up for failure so that I don’t have to perform. Or maybe it’s something else. But it is definitely something that I do and I’m aware of that. This blog, in a way, is my attempt at working through those issues.

So, fatal flaws end up being important on two levels. They are important on a story level and they are important on a personal level. Understanding one lends itself to the other. So what’s your fatal flaw?

And on a side note, a little self congratulatory moment: This post marks the third week in a row where I’ve gotten a post up each day of the work week.  I thought that it was only two weeks, but upon checking into it, I’ve found that I was wrong, it’s three! Yay me!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and that your words flow like warm honey fresh from the honey comb.

Refilling the Well


Two weeks ago I issued the challenge of living a quiet life. I talked about the importance of ridding distraction from our lives so that our imaginations have room to grow. Today I’m going to talk about the opposite. Well, sorta. 

All creative individuals find that their work day is filled with several trips to the well, the well of creativity that is. We lower our pails down into its dark depths, never seeing the bottom. We did not build the well, it was there when we came. Some days it seems like barely any rope at all gets taken up before the pail touches down. Other days we fear actually having enough rope to get the pail down far enough.

Much of the time the creativity and imagination finds its own way into the well. It leaks in through the sidewalls during spring, flows over the edges when fall showers come. But there are times when we take and take from the well far faster than it can replenish itself naturally. In those cases we have to help it along.

This notion of refilling the well came from a podcast that I used to listen to many years ago. They suggested having a day each week where you do not allow yourself to create. You take a mental vacation from all creativity on that day. The idea being that you can’t continuously take from the well and think that you won’t one day run dry. Or, worse yet, not have anything when you actually need it.

On refill days you don’t simply lie around on the sofa and not do anything. You also don’t use those days to do yard work. Remember, we’re ‘refilling’ the well. That is a task in and of itself.

So how do we refill the well: by seeking out creativity and imagination. We head to the movies, read a book, find a museum, enjoy a concert or symphony. We seek out other works of art that have sprung from the depths of others’ wells and simply enjoy them.

Last night, I had the opportunity to head to the well, the question was, which way would I carry the full pail? My step mum had taken our son for a couple of hours so that my wife and I could enjoy a meal without having to worry about feeding and entertaining our little one. After dinner we both headed in our separate directions, she to her computer and me to mine. “Oh the writing I can get done,” I thought. But then I thought about the available moment, got up, and headed to the living room.

Netflix delivered “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to our box several weeks ago, and while they don’t mind when you get it back to them, I like to be relatively prompt (get more for your money that way). I informed my wife that we would be watching it, and so we did.

While I thought that the early Benjamin acted older than he was, I none-the-less enjoyed it. I enjoyed it with tears. Especially after our little baby came back home midway through the movie and we had him sprawled out on the couch with us watching Benjamin enjoy his daughters first birthday only to miss out on the rest of her life and then turn into a little one himself, curl up into Daisy’s lap as a little babe and close his eyes forever. You can’t have a baby sitting in your lap and see something like that without tearing up, let alone consider the notion of not being allowed to grow old with the one you love.

After the movie was over, my wife got ready for bed and I sat with our son, rocking him in my arms, not wanting to put him down for fear that when I looked back again I would see a grown man in his stead. He’s never looked quite so big as he did last night in the soft glow of the closing credits, the movie score playing until the menu on the DVD came up and cycled through over and over.

I thought about a lot of things during that time, of the past year, of how fast it has gone by. I thought it funny, all those people to warn you, “Enjoy it, it goes by so fast.” I wondered if there are parents that actually need to hear that because I’ve been painfully aware of it every step of the way. Maybe it’s that creative emotionality so tightly woven into my soul that makes me appreciate such things.

When I finally conceded and took him to bed, I laid next to my wife and though about the past, present and future. I thought about how filled up with love and emotion I now was. What a great movie to have brought to the surface all of those thoughts and imagined experiences. And although I started out not expecting the movie to fill my creative well, I found that it was flowing over.

That led to this final thought: We have many wells in our lives, not just creative ones. As artists and especially as writers, we need to visit all of those wells and care for each of them in turn. While I might write in the fantasy vein, as a writer I weave tales about life, not fantasy. Fantasy is merely the setting, the rules through which lives are allowed to be played out. If I confine my refilling to solely the genre in which I write, I will find that my stories come across hollow because my well of love and loss is empty.

There is a side benefit from refilling your well, especially if you tend to all of them: Not only will your wells remain full, so will your life.

Go fill your wells my friends.

And enjoy a little baby holding music . . . 

Tightrope With A Net: Having Specialists Critique Your Stories

One of the golden rules of writing is to “write what you know.” But what happens when a segment of your story calls for you to write about what you don’t know? That’s when research comes into the picture. And today, during this age of information, the ability to research any given topic has become so easy that it is inexcusable to not do said research. 

I’ve heard tell of writers who use Google Earth to explore other cities so that they can stage their stories there. They can find a dark alley off of a specific road and people it with their imagination. This far off place cannot be brought to life by the internet, it can’t communicate the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, but it can give you a general idea for blocking. That’s when you delve into your own memories of a trip to the city and pull out details that can be mixed into this foreign setting to make it real. I for one use my short time living in San Francisco in a lot of stories.

In Spark, I have a character who is a hooligan of sorts living here in the states. Now, I don’t know much about hooligans and other than watching “The Green Street Hooligans” a few times and having a fondness for films from the UK, I am not qualified to write a hooligan character. However, I did not let that stop me. Victor came to life in my head and needed to be written. He was the right man for the part.

While doing revisions I found myself questioning whether or not specific parts of his dialogue were correct. It all sounded relatively authentic to me and even passed as such with my review partners, but I needed more assurance. That’s where the net came in.

I put out a call to writing acquaintances on a forum, briefly noting the character of Victor and how I needed someone from that area of the world to look over his dialogue. As luck would have it, someone wrote back, mentioning that they were from “darkest Watford.” A quick search on Google Maps and voila, I’d found the person I was looking for. Victor’s hails from London, just a short hop skip and a jump away from Watford. The two cities seem to blur together on a satellite view of the area.

After sending her my story she got back to me with wonderful news and some corrections. The wonderful news: that I’d pretty much nailed the dialogue. She highlighted changes that need to be made, words that are technically correct and sound authentic to a foreigner’s ear but grate when heard by a local. Her fresh set of eyes even picked up things that were getting skipped over in edits because both I and my two current readers are now a little too close to the story.

The entire experience has left be very satisfied and hopeful for the future of the story. It also has proven to me how important it is to have friends, or at the very least, acquaintances in all walks of life and from all across the world.

On a side note: I once had a professor who said this idea was key to world peace. She believed that every summer children should do an exchange program to a different part of the world. That way, when they heard something on the news about deaths in Sri Lanka or natural disasters in China, they wouldn’t think about numbers and abstracts, but about the friends they made there and if they were alright.  

So that’s today’s thought. Do you have a story that you’re working on that has a key part of that story being a person, place, or thing that you are not a specialist in? If so, is there someone you know that is? Find these people and seek out their help. They might reveal things to you about your story that you would have never considered otherwise. And who knows, it might even lead to world peace.

When Does "Tomorrow" Become "Today"?


A convergence of different interactions, thoughts, momentum brought to a halt by other plans, an incredibly unproductive day, finding that an article I had planned to pitch was just published in the last issue of the magazine I planned to pitch it to (and was poorly written to boot) and the movie “Step Brothers” has me in one of those artistic funks. Of course it’s probably not confined to artists, though I think creative people suffer from them more. 

Artistic funks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and include but are not limited to: self doubt, lack of inspiration, and even downright depression. They are those days when we consider producing something but stop ourselves with a “why bother?” We can’t see the product at the other end of our struggles. We don’t find reasons to create. We don’t even believe that there is anyone out there that wants to have anything to do with what we create.

We look at other artists and think about how much better they are than us. Or we look at them as talentless hacks who were bestowed some amazing gift by the luck fairy, a gift that we never seem to come across. On these days we complain and make excuses, we wallow in self-pity or self-loathing.  

A sense of entitlement sweeps over us and we expect that life should happen to us, that our talents should be found not presented. We then accept our lot in life to be subpar, substandard, and mediocre. After all, who are we to expect that anyone should take a chance on us? We don’t have the experience, the credentials, the references. We’re not a part of the “in” crowd. We don’t like talking in front of people. We don’t fit into a category.

We are either too old or not old enough. We think, “Why bother starting now,” or “I’ll start later.” And we’re always waiting for tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll feel better. Tomorrow I’ll have more money. Tomorrow I’ll know more.

But what if tomorrow never comes? Or worse yet, what if it keeps coming, just like it always has? What if our failure to act, to manufacture motivation when we believe that none exists, continues in an endless cycle of what-ifs?

They say that it is far better to regret than to live a life not knowing. At one point in life I took that to heart. I walked through the bookstore, peering over shelves at eyes that caressed pages as they read. Such intellect, such beauty. Then I watched her walk out of the door.   

For a moment I thought, “I guess it wasn’t mean to be.” I caught myself.

“Today,” I said.

I set my books down and marched out that door, jogged after her. “Excuse me,” I called.

She turned, confused as though she might have dropped something.

I can’t really remember what I said. I was too busy gasping for air amidst all the nervousness swelling inside of me. I remember brown curls and a pair of librarian glasses. I also remember the response to whatever I fumbled my way through. “Thank you, but I’m engaged.”

I never forgot to look at another ring finger again.

And as I walked back to the bookstore, my heart racing away, adrenaline surging to nearly shaking fingers, I thought, “that wasn’t that bad.”

That day led to another “today,” and another and another, until one day I was presented with the news that a very long term guest would be coming to stay with me and my then girlfriend. And at that moment I took a deep breath and thought to myself “today, and for the rest of my life,” and wrapped my arms around my future wife and my little boy just starting to take shape inside of her and haven’t looked back.

But that day, and all those since would have never come if I had not stopped to say, not “tomorrow,” but “today.”

Now say it with me, and say it every time you let “tomorrow” creep into your head, because “today” is when your life is lived and tomorrow is as yet unwritten.


Monday Funny: Hiphopapotomus


Just a reminder to be more constructive with your feedback. And don't we all sometimes feel like our rhymes are bottomless . . . . . . . . . 

Alice in Wonderland teaser trailer leaked


Apparently Disney is pulling this video down left and right. Youtube, MTV, and just about everyone else has been asked to take it down. Why? Seems they weren't supposed to let it out until AFTER ComicCon. Silly boys. MSN still has it up, but I'm guessing they'll have to take it down soon as well. Buuuuuuut, a Russian version of YouTube has it. And we all know that the Russians really don't give a rat's ass about what Disney think. So while the MSN link will likely die sometime tonight, I'm guessing that the link below will be a viable option until Disney re-releases the trailer. 


The Silence Experiment: Progress of a quiet life

This is sort of an update on my own progress with our Silence Experiment. For those that don’t know, Friday’s post was about finding inspiration through silence. The idea being that if you don’t fill your life with distraction, (tv, radio, ipod, tweets, internet) your mind will work to fill that space left behind. The challenge was to try and go a whole week without noise and see if it helps your writing. 

What I’m finding as I do this is that it not only helps writing, but general sense of well being. Slowing down to pay attention to life is filled with rewards. I’m finding that blog posts are not a chore to come up with right now and those ideas simmering in my head for my stories are ready to leap onto the page.

Beyond that, I find myself stopping aggravation before it starts. Just this past evening, my wife was exhausted and still had a bunch of work to do before bedtime. With our little one year old running around it’s hard to concentrate on any given task as you always have to be aware of what he’s about to put into his mouth or what he might try to climb up onto. Distracted me would usually be upset with having to stop what I wanted to do to entertain the little guy. But quiet me looked out the window at the freshly cut grass and thought, “I bet he’d love to run around out there for a while.” So I scooped him up and we headed outside.

After chasing the world’s best yard cat, Bounder, around for a while, the three of us plopped down and just sat there, breathing in the evening air and watching as the sun dipped below the tops of the almond trees across the street. The day before my son, wife and I all went swimming, and rather than hurrying back to the house after we were done, I hung around for a bit and looked up into the sky. Hundreds of dragonflies filled the air above the pool (my parent’s pool is not treated with chemicals, so that might have had something to do with it) and diving through the dancing dragons were these beautiful little birds with tail feathers shaped like ‘V’s. And as I watched I couldn’t help but think that I would have likely missed it had I been caught up in what the next distraction was that waited for me at home.

These are great times to have your note cards on hand for writerly moments. Of course, I haven’t had mine with me, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. There’s no telling where a writerly thought will take you.

The Great Pretender: Or dealing with Self Doubt


I’m involved in a new project at home. I’m building a garage onto the house. Last week in 104 degrees of wonderfulness, I sweated my way through framing up the longest wall. My wife was very impressed, to which I responded, “Eh, it’s okay.”

You see I know what I did wrong, and that it took me longer than it would have taken a professional. Those things eat at me. And yet, to my wife, step mother, and others not involved in the trade, the job looks just fine.

During a moment of quiet reflection while up on a ladder a few days later, I thought about that and about something an old friend of mine once said, “You don’t actually have to know what you’re doing, you just have to make it look like you know what you’re doing.”

I wonder if sometimes we’re a little too hard on ourselves as writers, artists, and just people in general. Maybe we bottle things up, don’t try as hard or put ourselves out there on the line because we know what right is supposed to look like and what we’re producing just isn’t it. But for all anyone else knows, we’re professionals.

So there’s your thought for the day. Are you being a little too critical when it comes to your writing or other areas in your life? Would people notice the imperfections if you weren’t constantly pointing them out? And are you more likely to let a minor mistake slide when a “professional” makes it? If so, let your own mistakes slide. Learn from them, but don’t let them hold you back. 

When to Write: or adapting with life


As anyone who’s read this blog from the beginning knows, I have a little ritual when it comes to writing.  Briefly, it involves a dark room, movie soundtracks and classical music, lit candles, and it being late at night so that my wife and little one are off to bed. But life is anything but static, and I’ve found myself in a writer’s funk for a good long while.

It’s not that I haven’t been getting any writing done at all. I’ve just been getting very little writing done other than the blog. And as my crit partner pointed out, the blog isn’t supposed to be the main focus (saucy left leg).

The change seems to have to do with changes in sleep patterns, most specifically those of my wife and child who have been sleeping in later and therefore going to bed later. Not too late, it’s not much different than when I was trying to rock my son to sleep when he was an infant. I’m still getting around to writing at about the same time, I’m just too drained from the day to do any writing.

My mood reminds me of when I was working as a signmaker by day and doing freelance graphic design by night. I couldn’t generate ideas at night because I’d spent my best hours during the day at my job. That job happened to be for a tyrant that I loathed, and didn’t help my mood any when it came to giving up that vital creativity to something other than what I was excited about. Mind you, I don’t feel like I’m working for a tyrant right now, just drained when it comes time to write. I’ll sometimes lie down on the office floor to quickly “rest” my eyes only to wake up an hour or two later in much worse shape than before.

I’ve decided that I need to find a way to get those good hours back and give them to writing. My solution: get up earlier rather than stay up later.

That might sound like a simple thing to a lot of people, but those people obviously don’t know me very well. I’m a night owl for one, and I also love sleeping in. I’ve always been that way. Somehow my body has changed its internal clock on me. I’ve found myself waking with the sun, going around the house to open or close windows and the like, and then heading back into bed and making myself fall to sleep. Then I thought, what if I just stay up and write while everyone else is still snoozing?

So far, so good. Anyone that has been paying attention to those rather static progress bars at the top of the blog, will notice that yesterday Spark’s status bar jumped forward a little bit. That has to do with not only the use of mornings to write, but also using the quiet time to focus on my story and what needs to happen. As I hoped would happen my imagination worked to fill the space left by the silence. It did so time and again during road trips this weekend going to different family events.

In conclusion, writing is not a Catholic mass; you don’t have to go through the exact same steps each time in order to call on the spirit of your story. In fact, sometimes you have to do the exact opposite.



Monday Funny: Herd Mentality

So what would you do if a bunch of people came running at you yelling, "Run"?

As for this week's list . . . I'm not at my computer right now and forget what I have in store for the week. But I'm sure that it's all great. :) Enjoy.

Silence: How to get ideas for your story


Silence; to some it is frightening, calling up feelings of loneliness and solitude, for others it can be a momentary relief from the constant chatter of the day. When I write, I tend to like having some form of silence. There is always sound present, no matter what we do, it’s just the sounds directed towards you that get you off task. But what about when you are not writing?

I got to thinking about this the other day when I was driving somewhere. I thought back to something my father told me about when he was on his spiritual kick. I believe it came from the book: The Power of Now.

Many of the sounds that we fill our free time up with are nothing more than distractions. They’re meant to take us out of the present and distract our minds with things going on elsewhere. Listening to the radio, having the television playing in the background, they take away whatever moment you happen to be in, and dull your senses. You don’t notice the birds chirping, the sound of the water swirling in that pocket by the canal bridge. When you take away all of those elements that make up the experience of life, you’re not really living. At least you’re not living as spiritually as you could. That’s what the book would say anyway.

Of course, we’re not really looking to be spiritual writers, are we? But becoming a better writer is not confined to the pages of books on writing. We can use the lessons from all facets of life to help us on our journey.

If you take the author’s advice and eliminate distraction from your life, you’ll find that something amazing happens: that silence does not become a void like some of us fear, it becomes a vessel. If you’re not used to the silence you might quickly become bored. Hang in there, and you’ll find that your mind will begin to stir. Slowly, it will start to fill that vessel with thoughts all your own rather than those that some external source has tried to prompt you with.

Let the silence wrap around you, suck up the distractions that cloud your mind, and soon you’ll be seeing clearly. It is in this empty space that the imagination can run free like a child on an open playground. Soon writerly thoughts will crop up. Ideas for stories will form out of the ether. Scenes will develop in your mind and people themselves.

Sometimes we’ll be off to visit a relative and my wife will ask, “Don’t you want the radio on?” To which I will reply, “No. I’m fine.” I learned to be comfortable with silence a long time ago. But as with all distractions, it is easy to fall back into bad habits. That’s what led me to thinking about this the other day when I went to turn on the radio because “it was too quiet.” After the second or third song that I didn’t really care for, I stopped myself.

“Why am I even listening to this?” I switched the radio off and let my mind stretch its legs.

That’s when I formulated this challenge. If you’re used to having distractions fill up all of your mind’s free time, try going a week without. This next week, starting whenever you choose, leave the television off, drive with no stereo, limit your internet to, say, one hour a day for things that we all know are distractions (social networks with their quizzes and games being the prime offenders), and see how much more you get done, how free your mind feels. Give your imagination some free time of its own. I think you’ll be delightfully surprised with what happens.

Let me know if you decide to take the challenge and how it goes for you. I’m interested to see if this works for anyone other than me.

Hope you all have a wonderfully quiet weekend filled to the brim with imaginings.

The Word Crash: When your mouse won't select text


My critique partner is busting my chops again about letting the blog distract from writing. Humph! (She's a good crit partner). Because she's probably right, (but only a little) I'm abandoning philosophical musings for another techy tip. Why? Because I just spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out why Word 2007 would not allow me to select text, and why it crashed every time I tried to close it. (Ah Microsoft, how I despise thee).

My Symptoms: Word 2007 has been crashing on me when I go to shut down. I try closing the program and I get that wonderful “Word has stopped working” dialog box. It usually solves the issue by restarting Word again, which happens to be exactly the opposite of what I was trying to do. Sigh.

But even for all of that nonsense, it was still letting me write normally so I ignored the shut down issue . . . until today.

Today I was trying to get the post written when I suddenly noticed that I could not use my right mouse button inside of Word, and only inside of word. Word also would not let me select text with the mouse. So, back to researching.

Solution: After a good long time of wading through posts on this issue dating back to the time this program was released a couple of YEARS ago, I finally found a link that solved the problem. I won’t go through the steps here because it would be redundant, just know that you have to edit your registry which is always a tricky and potentially life threatening when it comes to your computer.

Solution of Word 2007 crashing on close and mouse not working.

Good luck. Although I will say this, it was fairly straightforward and easy to do, so don’t worry too much about it. And it seems to have worked.

Right then, off to the blazing heat of the noontime sun to work on the new garage. 


A Very Merry unBirthday to You!


Another thought on character development taken from real life. We recently celebrated our son’s first birthday. The cake was baked, the food prepared, streamers hung, and the birthday song sung. It was a great time all around.

During the preparations my wife made note that, “The first birthday isn’t really for the child at all, it’s more for the parents, family and friends.” After all, how many of us really remember our first birthday? We see pictures and are told stories, but we don’t remember them. 

At the same time that all of this is going on, my cousin who has a son about five days older than our son, is in the midst of preparing her party for her son. “What completely different lives these two boys are going to have,” someone noted. Without airing dirty laundry, I’ll simply say that life has not been easy for my cousin.

This got me to thinking about what the differences might be like at the two parties, the people invited, the locations, the kinds of gifts not necessarily given, but those that are encouraged by the parents and those that get slipped into a closet and hidden away. Will there be many cameras there? How many people come together to help out? Will the parents ask for help or try to do it all on their own? Does the child get passed from one person to another because everyone wants to interact with him or is he left by himself with a bunch of toys to entertain himself?

When it comes to getting to know our characters more, imagining that first birthday might help us to understand their beginnings and the path they eventually chose. So ask yourself some of these questions, not just about the protagonist, but anyone that you’re having trouble identifying with in your story. Sit in on that first birthday and take note. What kind of cake was served? Did mom make it or buy it? Was it a success (my wife’s was a huge success, her first time too)? Your character might not remember the actual event, but they the rest of their life stemmed from moments like these.

Have any thoughts on this post? I encourage you to leave a comment. I know that this new layout is a bit confusing when it comes to that and I’m working on coming up with a fix for it. But in the meantime, you get to the comments section by clicking on the “No Comments” splotch at the top right corner of each post. If you enjoy anything here, I also encourage you to follow via Google or Networked blogs on Facebook. Send me a note if you have a blog and I’ll be sure to return the favor. Oh, and use some of those fun sociable links below the post. You have no idea how long I spent trying to figure out how to incorporate them from the template style used by my friend Paige and her fun blog about writing, (thanks Paige for turning me on to these awesome new templates).  


Browser Wars 2009: Or who I left Google Chrome for

Writers are like web browsers, we are portals to information. Being as such, some of us do it better than others just like with browsers. Recently, I’ve been having problems with my web browser of choice, Google Chrome, or as I now affectionately call it, Google Crash (bet you can’t guess why). 

My main PC is a 700GR Gateway that has a unique feature built into is hardware. At the time of purchase it was one of the few desktops that could handle a 3.4 Ghz processor because of an induction cowl over the processor and pushing and pulling, variable speed, 4” fans. That variable speed note means that when the computer is not doing much, the fan runs slow and quietly, when you’ve got a bunch of processor using work going, they spin like crazy and you can hear it. And that’s all it’s been doing lately is whirring like crazy . . . at least until Crash chromes- er, I mean, Chrome crashes.

That led me to staring at my task manager for the past few days as I tried to figure out what to do about web browsing. I ran layman tests with various browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and even Safari. I say “layman tests” because I don’t know how to code things to do real benchmark tests. What I can do is watch the CPU and Mem Usage columns on the task manager window and see what they do. Basically, I wasn’t impressed.

Then I took to doing what all writers need to learn to do well and started researching. There are a lot of articles pointing to FireFox as the great end-all-be-all for browsing. Those who know anything about browsers know that FF has had a big problem with being a black hole for system resources. It sucks memory like a Hoover, or at least it did. 

As it turns out, the Mozilla team has fixed this with their latest version and now FF uses the least amount of RAM in the group. Good news, but I don’t really like the feel of FF. It bores me. Maybe it’s because I used it for so long before getting fed up with the memory issues and converting to Chrome.

But, here are the facts: Firefox comes out on top in more than one review. It’s not the fastest, but it’s safer than IE (Internet Explorer) and provides a lot of customization. It’s that customization that makes it unstable later on and what leads to RAM leaking down the road. 

Rusty Chrome

Opera came in second place in one of the reviews I read. I had not heard of it before so I installed it and took it for a spin. The latest stable version seemed to move a bit sluggishly for me. I’m used to Chrome that zips about the net like an old hotrod. Therein lies the trouble with Chrome: like an old hotrod, it’s bare bones muscle car features leave you with no A/C, power anything, and no real chance for those of us who don’t know programming to do any modifications. It’s also unstable. All that power tends to throw rods. 

This graph from an article by Sam Allen on Firefox memory usage shows just how unstable it really is. Other than the crashes that I and others have experienced, memory tests put this browser all over the board. It can be deceiving when looking at your task manager because Chrome opens up a new instance for each tab you open. So when you look at the TM you have to add up the memory being used by each instance. Supposedly this is to keep the entire browser from crashing, but it hasn’t worked that way for me. Each time it crashes, the whole thing goes down. Most times it remembers what pages I was on when it crashed and reloads them for me when I start it back up, but man is it frustrating. 

Getting Some Culture

Looking into Opera more, I decided that there had to be some way to speed it up, especially since there are so many options for tweaking it. This ability to change settings puts it on the opposite end of the spectrum from Chrome. And as the above article notes, Opera’s bad scores are based on standard settings. With a few simple adjustments (which I have aggregated for you from across the web at the end of this article) you can breeze through the net just as fast as if you were using Chrome. 

And Opera not only has the same favorites start page as Chrome, but it actually let’s you choose your own favorites instead of having Chrome show you where you go most often- they call it “Speed Dialing” in Opera. Opera also has gestures, a feature that Google has incorporated into their Gmail service but has not included in Chrome.

Basically, gestures allow you to hold your right mouse button and move your mouse in specific directions to cause actions to occur. For instance, Right mouse while moving the mouse up and then down will reload your page. Right mouse and left will take you back. Right mouse and right takes you forward. Opera even guesses at what you’re intending on doing. So, if you do a search or start in on an album of pictures, rather than finding the “next picture” button, you can gesture for Opera to take you forward and it will take you to the next page in the series even if you haven’t been there yet.

Opera also has that cool hover preview thing like the Vista OS where it will show you a thumbnail of what that tab is. And for anyone who sits and stares at their browser while waiting for a page to load and thinks, “What the hell is taking so long?” Opera has a status bar that actually answers the question for you. You can set it up to pop up over the address bar. This way you know whether or not that blank spot on the page is there because it’s done or because something got left out.

For all of these reasons, I put Opera at the top of my list. I started to get worried about its memory consumption because it appeared to not be able to free up RAM even after having tabs closed. I got to a point one night where I was using over 500 Mbs for just a couple tabs. After restarting Opera, it climbed up to 270, which is right around where most browsers seem to run. (Somehow it read my mind and knew that I was going to complain about that, and now, with no fewer tabs than before, I’m down to 107. Go figure.)

While Opera passes every standard imaginable, unlike all of the other browsers available, it does have an issue with displaying some sites because those site makers don’t code to standards, the number one offender: Facebook.

Supposedly, Opera get’s its speed through maximizing the efficiency in standards; because FB doesn’t follow them, and instead builds to FF and IE, it causes Opera to choke a little. But just a little. For instance, I can’t get the “see more comments” button to work on FB. (Apparently this issue has vanished since I wrote that a few days ago. Did I mention that Opera also has the best complaint-to-resolution times for web browsers? That’s why its security is so high. Techy guys find the issue, report on it, and BAM, the Opera wizards fix it.)

As I started to do a little more research for this post I happened upon an article rating something called Flock as the number two browser behind FF. At first I wasn’t going to bother with it, already entranced by the European beauty of Opera, but then they mentioned something about posting an update to one place and having it show up everywhere.

Flocking Around

Flock is based on the FF browser, so it has all of the same functionality and safety as the latest version of FF. It seems to lack a little in the security area, putting it in the same league as IE but ahead of Safari. It doesn’t have gestures or speed-dialing and it doesn’t get around as quickly either, but what it does do is link all of your social networking sites into your browser. And as those of you who looked at the posts from the weekend already know, it lets you blog via your browser, uploading to your blog account whether it be in LiveJournal, Blogger, or any other of a number of blog hosts. It will even go into your Facebook account and post an update letting everyone know that you just updated your blog. 

I tend to dislike sidebars and cluttered screens; that’s why I gravitate to Chrome, but Flock actually fills up their sidebar with something useful (and if you don’t want it there you can make it go away). Flock organizes all of your social networks together so that you can see all those important mood updates without going to FB, Twitter, MySpace and more. It also allows you to post updates to your own mood without going to those sites. If you chat via FB, the chat bar is linked into the browser so that you don’t have to be on FB to use it. 

There is also an easy way to set up a web-based favorites account that links right into your favorites sidebar. I’ve heard about before but have never had the inclination to set up an account since I’ve not wanted to go to a special website to get my links. These days I work on my laptop, desktop, and wife’s computer and save links on all of them. Links are scattered everywhere. With flock, I have them all at my disposal no matter where I am at. 


So what’s the verdict?

In the end Flock was just too distracting for me. You’ve always got that sidebar staring at you, saying, “Look, look at what so and so just said.” Sure you can close it, but oh the temptation. Besides, it doesn’t show you EVERYTHING. You can only see people’s updated mood settings. You don’t see the new pictures they post, the back and forth messages, or posts that they make via applications (like when I use Networked Blogs to pull my feed from my blog and post it on FB). It has also missed a few updates of friend’s moods during my test drive. 

The one time posting I was all excited about turned out to be less than expected. You can post to Twitter or MySpace and have it update Facebook with the same message, but you can’t do all three at once. There is also no way to separate users, so unless you’re using the browser solely on your own machine that no one else touches, you run the risk of leaving yourself open to snooping. Not that I have anything to hide mind you . . . .

I’ve been searching and searching for ways to make Flock be the perfect fit, but it’s not.

I’ve decided to go with the sexy European model, Opera, for the majority of my web browsing. While their plug-in doesn’t work for the beta version 10 just yet, I’m sure they’ll get around to fixing it. I’ve uninstalled Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Because Flock is built on the FF code, I’ll keep it around as my Mozilla-based browser. IE is going to hang around for watching Netflix on demand and anything that Opera might choke on.

That being said

If you’ve waded through all of this and are thinking, “I might give that Opera thing a shot,” I have to warn you: you have to do a few tweaks. They’re easy, but if you don’t change these settings you’re going to be looking at a slow download, thinking, “That Dave guy is full of crap.”

First: Download the Opera 10 beta. Each version of Opera is faster than its predecessor and this is the fastest yet.

Second: Start tweaking.

Disable Auto Completion

Opera’s address bar can be used like Chrome’s, as a search field. I can’t remember all of the special engines you can use (found it, look under the ‘Search’ tab on the ‘Preferences’ window) but for example if you type [g dogs] it will search Google for dogs. Typing other letters in place of ‘g’ will give you other search engines, so in a way it’s more powerful than Chrome. But it will also try to auto complete what you’re typing by searching your computer for the answer and that sucks up the processor speed.

Click Tools>Preferences>Advanced (from the tabs)>Network (from the left hand menu)>Server Name Completion (button) and uncheck “Look for local network machine” and “Try name completion, using.”  

Reload Banners?

So, you know that ‘cache’ thing techy people are always talking about? I guess what it does is basically save parts of web pages to your computer. This allows your browser to load elements of the page without having to wait for it to be downloaded. It seems that some sites don’t like that because they want you to have to look at new ads and the like every time you visit their page. Opera allows you to ignore that.

Type “opera:config” in the address bar and hit enter. This brings up the Preferences Editor (it’s a different one from before, trust me). Rather than having to try and find certain settings by reading through all the things in Opera that you can adjust, they provide you with a search bar. Type “expiry” into that search bar and hit enter. Change both “Check Expiry History” and “Check Expiry Load” to (1).

While You’re in “opera:config” Adjust Connection Settings

Not really sure what this does, but I read it in a forum and it immediately sped up the browser when I did it.

Click the “Show All” button so that you can get back to seeing all of the categories again. Scroll down until you get to “Performance” and click on that option. This brings up connection settings and the like. Change yours to look like those in the picture:

Max Connections Server: 16
Max Connections Total: 64
Network Buffer Size: 32
Uncheck: Reduce Max Persistent HTTP Connections

Instant Redraw

Not sure what this does either, but it works.

Tools> Prefrences> Advanced> Browsing> Try Redraw Instantly


And there you have it. Those are all the tweaks that I’ve found that I think deserve noting. If you save many pictures, one of the articles noted how you can use ‘control’ and a left mouse click on a picture to automatically bring up the ‘save as’ window as opposed to finding it in the right mouse click menu.  

Monday Funny: To Gay or Not To Gay


Well, it is still technically Monday. :) Sorry so late. 

In honor of the recent Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, I post this informative and comedic take on the debate as to whether or not sexuality is a choice. Therefore, I warn those of you who might take offense to such discussion, but do ask that you consider it. 

I for one used to be strongly against homosexuality until one day I stopped to actually think about it. I removed religion from the equation and asked myself, "How does someone else's choice in partner really effect me?" I suggest you stop and ask yourself the same question. 

Coming Up This Week: (this is a new section of the Monday Funny where I'll post ahead of time what I'll be working on for the week. Consider it my commitment to you and a nagging reminder to myself to keep up with the blog)

Tomorrow: I'll be posting my verdict on web browsers with links galore and tips on how to fine tune my browser of choice should you consider giving it a try as well. 

Tuesday: An interesting writing prompt that sprang to mind over the weekend.

Wednesday: Philosophical musings on choice in pursuing dreams and the chains of responsibility. 

Thursday: The danger of writing prompts.

Friday: TBA (Or maybe I should say "It's a surprise!" But that would be misleading because I really have no clue what Friday will be.) 

What the Flock?

In the earlier post I uploaded via flock, I did so without having first entered in all of my other account information. I linked to my Facebook account in Flock, and when I posted the blog it gave me the option of notifying Facebook, which it did and that was AWESOME. But I was like, "hey, what about MySpace and Twitter and . . ." Then I realized that Flock didn't know that I had those accounts. So I've since added Digg, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube. I'm interested in seeing what it does when I try to post this little note.

Quick update: So far flock seems to be running well. It's based on FireFox open source, and the new version of FF is supposedly the best thing out there. It did freeze up during a media search via it's special media bar, and it also eats that processor speed like mad when you're doing all the crazy stuff that it lets you do, but I think that when you look at it side by side, on similar features with other browsers, it ranks right up there with the best of them. I'll have my final verdict soon.

aaaaaaand no. I can only post a feed to FaceBook. Interesting how that seems to be the developer's choice in sociel networking. But, what I have discovered is that I can quickly click through my social sidebar and post updates to the three sites without ever going to the actual site. That's a good thing. Now if only there were a way to merge Opera and Flock. Hmmmm.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Testing the Flock out of this Browser

So, I got to work on the latest blog has a little to do with writing. Let's face it, everything we do has something to do with writing. It's just that with some things the connection is a bit more tenuous than with others. This one's going to be about how we navigate the web and my quest for the ideal web browser.

As it happened, I was typing away on the blog and running internet searches to pull up facts and statistics when I happened upon yet another web browser. Normally, because I had not heard of it before I would have ignored it, buuuuut this particular browser demanded a little looking into.

Flock is supposedly designed with social networking in mind. You can link Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, your blog, and like seventeen other social sites. Now, I know what you're thinking, "uh, David, aren't we supposed to be trying to get some writing done? How is being continuously plugged into every time suck hole ever created supposed to help us achieve that goal?"

You're right. And that's what I thought at first too. But then I thought about the possibility of uploading content on Flock, and then have it post that same info to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and anything else I signed up for. Whereas before I'd have to actually go to each of those sites individually and perform the task over and over, now I'd be able to do it with one click.

Ah, now you're coming around, aren't you?

This is my test post using Flock's blogging feature. Let's see how it does.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday Funny: Don't Be Racist

Today's Monday Funny comes to us in honor of my recent discovery that I am an eighth black. How about that for an interesting character discovery?

Warning: The following video has a couple of harsh words, but really nothing too bad. Just watch your back if you're at work. :)