Tag Archives: writing

Where To Find West Texas Jewels

Forty miles southeast of Lubbock, Texas, at the intersection of Highways 84 and 380, on a small parcel of flat land, rests a little jewel of Texas history. The town owes its founding to a cereal magnate and its continued existence to the energy industry, but it has more going for it than the acrid smell of crude oil and rows upon rows of wind farms on the horizon. Most people driving down Highway 84 are coming from or going to Lubbock, home of Texas Tech University, or on to Amarillo. But Post, Texas is still home to a number of die-hard West Texans who live and work in the 100-year-old town. Many of the residents have lived their entire lives there, while others left at some point to find their fortunes but ended up returning with a family. One unique sort of resident was discovered in Post but has now found a permanent home on display across the state in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This small, desert gem of a town offers a Texas-sized portion of history, culture, and art.

Garza County Museum

Linda Puckett’s husband’s family were long-time Post residents, so when she and her husband returned to Post in 1980, it was a homecoming of sorts. The Pucketts owned a trucking company at the time, but Linda quickly found her calling when the C.W. Post Historical Center needed help. In her role as director, Linda has overseen a mass expansion of the museum’s collection, including gathering items from local Post residents such as Alvin G. Davis, a renowned cowboy featured in a large room dedicated to his rodeo days and philanthropic activities. “He is the highest honored 4-H member to date. He’s quite a guy. He’s still living; we have a living legend.”

Building the collection has been a passion for Linda since she took over the museum in 1995, which meant a lot of work. “I’ve been here 22 years now. We started with three rooms and nothing and now we have a huge historical museum.” The museum is housed in the old Post Sanatorium, which served as the town hospital for a number of years. Next door is a building that served as a nursing school. “There really was nothing here; we’ve totally revamped the whole interior. Once [the residents] saw we were here to stay, they didn’t mind us having grandma’s stuff. We ended up with a lot of stuff, so now I have to be kind of selective.”

The town’s namesake, C.W. Post, is not underrepresented in the museum. Linda was quite happy when the Post estate called asking if she wanted the furniture from Post’s Battleground, Michigan office. The chairs and desk had been stored at the Hillwood Museum in Washington D.C. at Post’s daughter’s home, but the agent in charge of the display needed the space, so he thought of Linda. She has established a relationship with the estate over the years and now proudly displays artifacts from Post’s office. There is so much in the museum that Linda is planning on a massive expansion in the near future which may include building an annex to the museum dedicated to Post. “We’re running out of room inside. We have Mr. Post’s stuff in the hallway.”

OS Museum

C.W. Post built the town after obtaining the land from several ranchers; one of them was Wilson Connell, who sold Post 27,000 of his 160,000 acres and left the rest of his land to his family. Among those sections of land was the OS Ranch, named for Overall and Street, the original land owners and founders of the ranch who sold to Connell back in the 1800s.

In the building Post built on Main Street in 1911 as an office for his land and cattle company, the OS Museum now resides, independently owned and operated by the descendants of Connell. While the Garza County Museum features artifacts from residents of Post, the OS Museum features collections from around the world and has little to do with the town’s history other than its location. The late Giles McCrary, grandson of William Connell, started the museum to feature artifacts and artwork collected by the family as they traveled over the years. Christie Morris, assistant curator, explained that McCrary wanted to provide access to art that most people will not get a chance to experience. The museum rotates themed displays that change at Easter, summer, and Christmas. One of the most significant additions to the collection are the assortment of the famed Fabergé Eggs. “Mr. McCrary set the whole thing up as a nonprofit. The family doesn’t charge anything for it; we just want to make these things available to the people who live in the area and the people who come through.”

Those people include the residents as well as visitors. “We have people from literally all over the world. We have a lot of people passing through; a lot of people will stop to maybe see something downtown. All Post’s merchants are really good about promoting one another. A lot of times someone will come up and say that ‘I was down in so-in-so shop and they said I had to come see this.’ We get a lot of people from Tech as parents are driving through and they’ll stop and sometimes bring people back and they’ll stop in and see us.”

Postosuchus

One resident of the Post area that brings people to town moved away and will probably never return, although he takes with him an indelible part of the town. He is named for Post, Texas, as his formal name is Postosuchus Kirkpatriki, but he is more commonly called Postosuchus. The large animal lived in Post in the late Triassic era and David Temple, Assistant Director of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, is quick to point out that Postosuchus is not a dinosaur, he is a reptile. “This is really before the dinosaurs came along and you have these things which are essentially reptiles. Dinosaurs appear at the end of the Triassic and into the Jurassic.”

Researchers still visit the Post excavation from time to time for more study. The skeleton on display in Houston is not as large as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but is similar in size to a Velociraptor. Researchers from nearby Texas Tech who regularly visit the dig site posit that Postosuchus may have been able to walk on his hind legs, but was probably a quadraped, according to studies of his skeleton. Temple said that the research was conducted using pieces of different specimens. Scientists unfortunately did not find an entire intact skeleton, but did find enough to identify Postosuchus, despite return trips to the excavation.

“We’ve been out there twice. We spent two or three days straight, ten hours a day and we didn’t really find much of anything. When you find stuff, it’s where you find it but its not everywhere. It’s kind of spotty.”

This little stretch of Highway 84 sees more traffic than one might expect from this West Texas area outside of Lubbock. Between scientists, residents, visitors, and Red Raiders driving to and from Texas Tech, the town gets a notable amount of visitors. Linda Puckett enjoys being on the route in and out of town. “We are the last stop before the interstate. We’re a good pit stop.”

So whether you find yourself traveling through the area and need a place to rest or looking for an out-of-theordinary day trip for the family, Post has plenty to offer. And if you visit on a Saturday, Puckett suggests visiting the Ragtown Gospel Theater, just north of town, for a matinée.

 

This article appears in the October, 2017 issue of TexasLiving Magazine.

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Where No Man Has Gone

The sun was shining down from between the fluffy cumulous clouds on that summer’s day in 1974. I remember it was summer mostly because I was with my dad at his job and it was just the two of us. We were on the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz when it was docked in Newport News Virginia, dad having finagled a tour of the massive ship. As big as the ship was, the corridors, gangways and berths all seemed cramped even to an 8-year-old. The bunks seemed smaller than my own bunk bed that I shared with my brother. Everything was gun-metal gray and industrial looking. There was no way someone could spend a whole year on this ship without going insane. Now my dad was talking to one of the crew and, at 8, I didn’t pay attention to details so he could have been a boson’s mate, a deck hand or the captain for all I knew. My ears did pick up when my dad asked one question: “Is she as big as the Enterprise?”

USS Enterprise on maneuvers in the Pacific in 1972. image courtesy Wikipedia

The Nimitz was launched in 1972, and my dad was stationed at Newport News in 1974, which is when he got us on board. But as impressive as the 100-plus thousand ton supercarrier was, there was no way she was as big as the U.S.S Enterprise. Granted, the Nimitz was big. Dad led me up stairs that were more like permanent ladders, down narrow corridors through bulkheads with giant wheels that locked them like safe doors, into areas that began to blend into one long grey room. The Galley looked like the sick bay except for the appliances. Dad showed me the berths where the sailors slept when they weren’t on duty. Not too comfortable looking stacked three deep as they were. Definitely not what one would expect on a ship as famous as the Enterprise.

After all, the Enterprise had warp drive and shuttle craft and flew among the stars. She was the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. She was commanded by Captain James T. Kirk. There was no way that this hunk of cramped metal rooms could compare to the Enterprise. Besides, the Enterprise was science fiction. Even I knew that.

The way he asked it, however, so matter of factly, gave credence to the fantasy of there actually being a real starship and that one day, my dad would finagle a passage on THAT Enterprise. We would explore those oddly curving, day-glow painted corridors, walk through doors that shushed open and closed without being touched and maybe even beam down home when we were finished. Maybe the Klingons or the Romulans would attack while we were on board. Maybe dad and I would be given a Starfleet tunic and drafted into the crew. My dad was a captain in the Army, so he would naturally be one of Kirk’s senior staff, and I could be the youngest helmsman in the fleet. Oh, the day we would have. But why was he asking if this ship was bigger than the Enterprise?

Of course, I was to find out later that he was referring to the eighth in a long line of war ships bearing the name Enterprise. At 94,000 tons, the aircraft carrier Enterprise was indeed smaller than the Nimitz, but not by much, and it never went to warp speed and never fired a phaser at a Klingon battle cruiser. Even so, I was far from disappointed at my tour of the Nimitz. It was some quality father-son time with my dad. As one of four kids, I ate up the one-on-one time when I got it. It is one of the strongest memories of my childhood and one of the memories that have been coming to mind since Alzheimer’s claimed my father a few years ago. It’s my job to remember them now. It’s how he stays alive and it is the only way my grandchildren can ever get to know their great granddad.

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Walking the Walk

I now have time for my own writing again. Having completed all the work required for my Master’s degree in Technical Communication, I don’t have any more academic writing on the horizon, affording me ample time to update my blog and work on my novels. The two novels I am working on, Unfinished and The Adventures of Braxton Carter, have been sitting for the past several months as I focused my attention on Instructional Design and the Graduate Final Exam research and the Graduate Portfolio. I am so looking forward to getting back to my own writing.

It has been a stressful month. I had a final project in instructional design to complete and a usability test for a fellow student’s final project to complete on top of researching material from about 14 books for my program’s Final Exam—which consisted of two questions for which I had to write about 2500 words each answer. The exam was two weeks ago, the week after my project was due. After turning in the exam, I had to wait a week and a half to find out if I passed. I was about sick to my stomach the whole time as stress worked its way with me. I finally found out I passed and it took almost a whole day before the weight lifted from my shoulders.

Last night, my wife and I started decorating for Christmas (after I submitted the last thing I needed to for the program: my portfolio) and it was only then that it dawned on me that I had no more school work waiting on me. I had no deadlines looming. I had no assignments pending. No discussion posts to update. It was a weird feeling. Pleasant…but weird.

I just finished my exit interview with the program coordinator who told me how proud the department was at my graduating and having passed the exam on the first attempt. I don’t know how common it is to fail—I meant to ask her, but I didn’t want to sound pompous. After four years of reading my fellow students’ work on discussion posts and essays, it is not outside the realm of possibility that some of them failed.

One of the questions on the exit survey was “do you intend on pursuing a PhD?” My answer was an unqualified “NO!” I have had enough of research and academics to last a lifetime. My advisor did invite me to apply to teach as an adjunct instructor in the department. I have actually thought about it several times. I think I could do it, if they paid enough and could work around my work schedule. And if I decided to stay in Houston.

So, here’s to no more school. Commencement is the last thing waiting on me and it is the 19th. If anyone wants to see me get my sheepskin, here’s the link for the webstream. It starts at 10: https://www.uhd.edu/computing/labs-technology-centers/technology-teaching-learning-center/itv/Pages/Commencement.aspx

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The Tempestuous Mistress

I tell people I am a writer.

I actually have a job that earns money. I am a senior technical instructor. That takes up most of my daylight hours and pays the bills. It is actually a rewarding career and I enjoy it most of the time. It even occasionally involves curriculum development, which is a form of writing. But I also write on my own. A lot. I love writing. Well most of the time.

I spent the better part of a year without doing any significant writing. Actually, more than that if you don’t count the few blog posts I made. I have been working on a novel since 2006 and I have several files for different chapters in the story, but there was no order to them. I figured once I got the story down, I would go back and put the segments in order. The story has always come to me in spurts, but last year, I hit a brick wall in my story-telling process. I didn’t know what it was until recently. I couldn’t even think of my characters or plots even after rereading the text. In fact, it was so bad I got hypercritical about the book and almost trashed it. Fortunately, I didn’t.

The creative force that drives writers and artists is often called “the Muse” and creative people each have their own relationship with this force. The Muse refers to the mythological daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (goddess of memory) and considered the source of all knowledge, science and the arts. The Muses are always portrayed as female entities.

My Muse has been on sabbatical for some time. I don’t know why. I don’t know where. Maybe they had a family reunion on Mount Olympus. All I know is that for more than a year, I have had no real good ideas pop into my head to write. Suddenly, about two weeks ago, after I bought a new tablet, the muse returned with a vengeance. With the new tablet, I obtained a new piece of software that allows me to organize all of the parts of my novel together in segments that can be arranged on the fly and uses notes to help identify sections. This new organization allows me to see the whole of novel at a glance, which somehow removed the stopper that had been blocking me. It was like my Muse wouldn’t talk to me until I cleaned up my room.

Ever since then, I have been wrestling with my muse just to shut her up. The other night, I wrote a draft of a new scene in my novel. I cranked out 2000 words (not too shabby) and I was getting tired. It was late. But like the character in my book, the muse would not let me go to bed. Once I closed the tablet and tried to settle into bed, my muse started talking to me again with ideas for the next chapter as well as some revisions for previous scenes. I got out of bed, set up the tablet and began typing notes. Once I had a rough outline done, I figured I would go to bed and flesh it the next day.

My muse had other ideas.

I left the tablet set up, but settled into bed. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I saw the next scene playing out in my mind like I was watching a movie. Once I had the gist of the plot, I got up and outlined it too. This was a compromise, because my Muse wanted me to write out the scene right then. This happened two more times before I was allowed to nod off.

Yesterday morning, while riding my motorcycle into work, the muse shifted from the novel I am currently writing to one I have been conceptualizing. I had the idea for a story last year after my niece had her second child and gave him a wonderfully interesting name. I told her that is the name for a protagonist! Unfortunately at that time I had no story to go with it. Now I do, thanks to my muse who kept urging me to get off the highway and take notes. I did not, but I did remember enough to sketch an outline when I got to the office.

While it sounds like I am complaining, I am actually delighted to have ideas flowing again. I was getting quite frustrated and my inability to generate text. Now I only hope I can keep my muse focused on one story at a time, at least until one is finished. The last thing I need is too many stories to keep track of messing up my file organization. I don’t need my Muse nagging me to clean my folders again.

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The Best of Both Worlds

I once wrote a blog about how the tablet was the replacement of the netbook, and for the most part, I nailed it. Many computer makers now make small computers called ultra books with as much or more power than notebooks and desktops. Most feature touch screen displays similar to tablets, albeit a tad larger, which brings me to my point: The tablet is NOT the replacement for the net book. But then again, neither is the ultra book. No, the replacement is actually a little bit of both. Microsoft introduced the Surface last year and despite a mega marketing campaign and obvious product placement in shows like Arrow (or just about every other show on TV) the Surface has not beaten the iPad or Android tablet in sales. It should. It is the replacement for the net book and brings the best of mobile computing and traditional computing together.

I traded my Acer One net book for an Asus Transformer Prime tablet (with attached keyboard) running Android’s Jelly Bean OS. I used this setup for a couple of years, trying different software to get some semblance of functionality for writing. Unfortunately, Android is still in sore need of a serious word processing solution. After Asus abandoned the prime, software updates made the tablet so slow as to be worthless to me. There was no update to Jelly Bean or Kit Kat for the Prime. It was time for a new device.

I first tried a Galaxy Note, but it was too much like my phone, also a Note, and I thought it wouldn’t be a good tool for writing, as Android still lacks a good word processor. I briefly considered the iPad, since it comes with Pages, which I hear is not a bad app for writing, but when I tried it I was underwhelmed. No, I needed to get back to a windows machine, it seemed, especially since I have been dying to try Scrivener, a professional writing app for Windows and Macs. Of course, that meant getting into Windows 8.

The Windows 8 operating system has a split personality that occasionally battles with itself. Tablets like the Galaxy Tab and the iPad feature operating systems and applications tailored for the ultra mobile consumer platform. Users of tablets do not spend a lot of time creating content, rather, they view and interact with content. For this reason, most tablets do not offer all the bells and whistles of a full version of Windows or Mac OS. Apple realizes this and has a separate OS for their mobile devices. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be struggling with drawing a line between functions. For Windows 8, Microsoft jumped head first into the mobile platform pool, and took the desktop with it. Long time users of Windows moaned and groaned and clung to their copies of Windows 7 like a life preserver. Some even refused to leave XP. Microsoft listened and revamped 8.1 to include the ability to keep the traditional desktop interface, albeit with some modifications. Once a user gets used to the changes in the full version of 8.1 and not the RT version, the changes are not too bad. There is a learning curve, to be sure, but so far, I have found all the settings and functions I have gotten used to with earlier versions.

The Surface Pro 2 is zippy fast boasting an i5 CPU running at 2.5 GHz, though if one wishes to optimize battery life, it will slow down the CPU when on battery. When it does this it is not appreciably slower to the average user. During my testing, I did notice the slow down on the legacy apps, which are more resource hungry. It also comes with a stylus.

Good keyboard action on the Power Type cover. This has the same chicklet-style keys that the Type cover has, but is on a thicker platform, which for me make it feel more stable. The touch style keyboard is the thinnest and cheapest keyboard, but it has a fabric skin on it and there is no tactile response to the keystroke. For me, as a writer, I must have that tactile response. These keys on my type cover are actually better than many of the ultra books I have tested. The downside of these covers is that the other parts of the keyboard are wrapped in a flimsy covering that feels like paper and I suspect will start to split and peel eventually.

The stylus works well and has an eraser feature which is pretty neat. One simply flips the stylus over and rubs the other end over the tablet to erase, just like a pencil, when used in an app that supports it. It does not default to mouse function in desktop mode, though. It does a very good job of selecting and Windows has altered the file explorer to provide check boxes when selecting, which is easy to do with the stylus. Another stylus-related feature is the Windows journal app, which allows for handwritten note taking using the stylus, including doodles and sketches. The handwriting can be converted into text very effectively by the journal. No easy feat considering the state of my chicken scratch.

Microsoft boasts the Surface has 10-point touch capabilities in the screen. I understand the benefit of multi touch, which allows pinch to zoom and rotation and a host of other features, but why call out the number ten? How could one put all 10 fingers on the screen at the same time? Little Hands? Who’s holding the tablet then?

The Surface Pro 2 is quite heavy, especially when you add on a keyboard. This is a fact that is not necessarily a bad thing if it is used as a notebook, but can be hard to hold for reading. Add in the fact that the battery in the Power Type cover also adds 20 percent more weight as well and it gets quite heavy; about 20 percent heavier than my old Asus Transformer Prime.

The reason I bought it was because it has a 10-inch screen. Most people would balk at the small size, as laptops usually run 13-17 inches with some models running as large as 21 inches, but I like being as portable as possible and I really primarily use it as a writing tool. I looked at several ultra books, since they were cheaper (less expensive) but they were cheaper (flimsy). The Yoga came in a close second, but I didn’t like holding the keyboard flipped backwards.

Now for a tablet, the Surface is quite pricey. The 128 gig SSD Pro 2 version runs a grand by itself plus 120 to 200 dollars for the keyboard depending on which keyboard you get. I got the one with the extra battery to help the tablet last longer. My Asus had that feature, which in that case doubled the battery life, but in the case of the Surface, only provide 50 percent more battery life. Is it worth the extra 60 bucks for the battery? I dunno, but with both batteries fully charged, the surface lasted 12 hours of constant word processor use with some internet and video thrown in. The battery control panel doesn’t accurately report the status in either control panel. This is confusing and frustrating as I never know exactly how much battery life I have left at any given time.

Now, the biggest issue with the Surface is none of the things I have yet mentioned. No, the biggest hurdle is the interface; the surface uses Windows 8—an operating system I have spent the past year decrying as terrible. One might wonder if I have changed my viewpoint on this subject since I did spend more than a thousand dollars on a device running this pariah of an OS. The caveat I claim here is that I have always said, and I still maintain, that Windows 8 was designed for touch screen devices like tablets and cell phones and the surface is one such device. As it has a very responsive touch screen, Windows 8.1 is functional using the metro interface. With the latest updates to 8.1, the legacy desktop interface is still there, one simply has to look for it and with the new version, it is only a touch away. Most of the features of traditional windows are still there and if one still uses a mouse and keyboard, one might forget for a moment that it is on a tablet.

With the pro version, legacy windows apps such as Word 2007 and Photoshop CS4 run like they always have, in desktop mode. Microsoft is busy trying to build a library of metro interface apps so the users will have an iPad-like experience with an app store that runs in the touch metro interface. There are two versions of Internet Explorer, one that runs windowed like IE has for years, but also a touch-optimized version, which puts the address bar in auto hide, drops it to the bottom of the screen and changes up the UI entirely. Instead of clicking a back button, or even hitting the backspace key, one simply swipes from the left to go back.

The other version of the Surface was initially called the Surface RT, but Microsoft dropped the RT from the name. It has an atom processor and runs a stripped down version of windows that supposedly drops support for legacy apps. I cannot verify that as I have the Pro, but that was the main reason I got the pro. I need to use the apps I have already paid for. I see no reason to pay Microsoft a monthly fee to use Office, which is the current model for Office 360. Adobe has followed suit with a monthly charge of $40 to use Creative Suite.

It occurs to me though, that even as much as the Surface does, it probably should not be the only computer in anyone’s network. It has a SSD running from 32 to 512 gigs, depending on how much one wishes to shell out. Microsoft is graciously throwing in a year’s worth of Sky drive for cloud backup, but unless one has some money, either an external USB drive or some network storage solution would be best in addition to the Surface.

So far, after a week of using it, I am loving the Surface. I am mad at myself for waiting this long. This device has my whole hearted recommendation. Even Windows 8 gets a nod, given that it is on a touch screen and has 8.1. Just be prepared for a bit of a workout lugging it around.

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For the Love of Chicken Scratch

It has been a while since I have blogged anything, mostly because, in all honesty, I have been too lazy to try to put ideas down on paper.  Well, that’s not really true.  I haven’t put ideas down on paper in a long time.  Paper and pen are old technologies that I rarely employ these days.  I was watching the TV show “Almost Human” with Karl Urban which is set in a techno-advanced near future where half of the police force is staffed by robots and everything is done electronically.  On this episode, Urban’s character Kenex is confounded by some scribbles on small pieces of paper.  The witness tells him that her dead boyfriend was old school and wrote his phone number on the paper and kept it after she tore it up.  She thought his sentimentality was sweet.  Kenex then searches all over the precinct for a piece of paper to impress a girl.  It takes a long time.  No one in this dystopian future uses paper anymore.  I know I rarely do.

image

I have been writing on a laptop, netbook and tablet for years.  I use my mobile phone to dictate notes to myself.  It just makes sense to me.  I was working with a technician the other day and he had this stack of index cards in a cup holder in his van.  I asked about it and he told me that he takes notes on every job he works to keep a ready reference.  Outstanding idea that more technicians should adopt.  When I was a technician, I similarly kept notes on my jobs, but I did it on a laptop.  This tech has an iPhone and an iPad and still uses pen and paper to take notes.  I felt like I was back in 2000.  Someone get me a cd player.

I went rambling though a Barnes and Noble and one of the largest sections they have are journals.  Some are very well put together, bound in leather, heavyweight, low-acid-content paper journals.  Now, I love leather.  Anything leather.  Seeing a leather-bound book gets to me in a real , almost physical way.  Every time I see one, my first thought is ‘buy it.’  Then I look at it and ask myself when would I use it?  Could I see myself carrying this everywhere I go?  I already carry my tablet and phone everywhere.  Which would best facilitate writing?  The answer to that question is obvious to anyone who has tried to read my chicken scratch.

When I went back to college in ’98, I studied writing and most writing classes have in-class writing assignments.  I know at least one syllabus required that we buy these annoyingly expensive composition books just for these assignments.  After struggling to write neat enough for the professor, I found myself barely finishing before the class ended and of course, the comments by the prof usually praised my style and cursed my penmanship.  That, coupled with the sensation of someone driving nails through my metacarpals drove me to look for a technological solution.  Finally, I bought a laptop and a portable printer and a bag the size of an encyclopedia salesman’s sample kit.  In 1998, laptops were not the tiny featherweight slates that populate first class on airplanes these days.  No, laptops were were the size of your average family Bible and weighed about as much not including the power supply brick (which bore a startling resemblance in size and shape to its namesake).  The printer I had was not much smaller than the average desktop printer.  The only thing that made it portable was the fact that it had a battery.  A heavy battery.  That lasted about an hour.  It wasn’t WiFi, it wasn’t Bluetooth, heck, it wasn’t even USB.  It had a parallel cable!

I came to class and started looking for a power outlet (since back then, a laptop was lucky to get two hours use on a charge and I had to make it last all day).  I found one not too far from where I usually sat.  Ever notice how just changing a seat makes everyone act weird?  I opened my huge carrying case and began untangling cords and plugging in my equipment.  Once, I had the laptop opened and booted on my desk and the printer set up on the vacant desk next to me, I was ready to begin and I still had about two minutes before the class was supposed to start.  I looked around and everyone was staring at me.  The professor came over with the furtiveness of someone pointing out my fly was open and asked about my setup.  “I’m ready for today’s writing prompt,” I announced.

“You know you have to turn it in at the end of class, don’t you?  I can’t give you time to go to the computer lab to print it out.”

I patted the printer next to me like a race car driver stroking his formula funny car.  “I’ve got that taken care of,” I replied.

I not only finished my paper with time to spare, I had enough time to almost totally revise it before printing it for the prof.  She was more than satisfied with the results of my setup and didn’t mind my using it for the rest of the term.  I have used it in every class from then on.  In fact, several other students began pulling out laptops in class.  Today, in my classes, EVERY student has one, and for the few that may not, the university has several computers in every classroom.
Handwriting is a dying art.  I have heard many people lament the decline of penmanship, while others clamor for a faster demise, stating that technology has made the ink pen obsolete.  I remember sitting in a classroom decorated with a running border along the walls illustrating the proper way to form cursive letters trying to make the lower case letters touch the dotted line on the Big Chief notebook while keeping them all leaning the same way.  I HATED cursive writing.  It hurt my hand and it took forever.  I liked print.  I wrote a blog a couple of years ago when I started my graduate studies about having to write a paragraph in order to take the GRE.  Handwriting is painful and slow.  But then again, isn’t said that one must suffer for one’s art?  The love letter, the sympathy note, and the thank you note are all examples of the best uses of handwriting.  Sometimes its not what you say, but how you say it that matters.  Suffer through script to share sentiment, but for everything else, ticka ticka ticka I say.

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The Netbook’s Eulogy?

There has been much ado in the mobile computing world of late as a new platform has threatened to kill the netbook. The netbook was developed as secondary device to a regular notebook computer to allow more portability with internet access. Many netbooks even come with 3G network access for internet access while on the go. Opponents to the netbook bemoaned the fact that although smaller and lighter, it was essentially the same user experience as a notebook–kind of redundant. A new device, the tablet, was developed with two distinct camps touting the praises of their respective platforms while degenerating the opposition.  This polemic view of this next evolution of personal computing is no where near resolution as developments on both fronts push the debate along.  I joined into this debate this past month by finally buying a tablet PC.image

The two dominate formats for tablet computing are Apple’s iPad with iOS and any number of tablets running Android.  Apple gets points for introducing the tablet PC to the public with the first consumer model in the iPad.  There had been a Microsoft Windows-based tablet floating in the fringes of the market for high end users, but it was aimed at doctors or similar professionals and priced out reach of most consumers.  Windows also lacks a viable touch interface with XP or Windows 7, making the user experience less than par.
Apple had already won the hearts and minds of the public with its touch-based iOS on the iPhone and iPad touch, so it seemed logical to use the same interface for a full-sized tablet.  The iPad was touted as the netbook killer and projected to redefine the mobile market.  It did redefine the market, but it did not kill the netbook.
I have been using a netbook to write for the past three years and it has done a wonderful job.  I used an Acer Aspire One with Win XP and Word to write, surf and email while on the go.  Of course for more serious applications, I had my work laptop and the home media center to carry the heavy computing load.  Since my netbook has become, in personal electronics years, the equivalent of geriatric age, it was time to replace it.  The question was, what to replace it with; a new netbook or something more portable.
I have watched the tablet market for the past year as HP, Acer, Samsung and others battled to produce a tablet to compete with the iPad.  Android and Windows both are being pressed into service on tablets, but as I have said earlier, Windows does not make for a good tablet interface.  It also eats batteries for lunch.  For example, Asus makes two tablets, one that runs android and one with Windows 7.  The Android tablet gets 8 hours of service, the Windows tablet only 5.
I found that most tablets are using the Nvidia Tegra 2 processor chip.  It is a respectable dual core processor and fast enough for most applications. 
I played with all kinds of tablets in the store trying to find the one that said “buy me.”  None did.  Not even the iPad.
The iPad has smooth scrolling on its pages, and the applications seems fluid enough, but the iOS leaves me wanting.  It does not support widgets and it does not multitask very well.  In fairness, iOS 5 does multitask, but not as well as Android 4.
Android has widgets and multitasks very well–though not as well as Windows.
So where does this leave the prospective buyer? Looking for other features. Like a keyboard.
There are plenty of keyboard options for tablets users who want one. Most of them are Bluetooth, which poses its own problem. Bluetooth uses more power. Also, most Bluetooth keyboards for tablets are flimsy sealed rubber key devices that are integrated in a tablet case. Only two manufacturers have dedicated keyboards that make a direct physical connection to the tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a plug in keyboard that holds the tablet in an attached stand. Not a bad solution, but not optimum in my opinion. The clear advantage goes to the Asus Transformer Prime, which touts a snap-on keyboard which turns the tablet into a netbook. The Transformer Prime also touts the latest Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad-core processor and now updates to Ice Cream Sandwich upon making a network connection.
I bought the Transformer Prime about a month ago and waited to write this review until I had put it through its paces. I am glad I waited.
The device has redefined my use in many ways. I have had the Kindle app on my phone for more than a year and even had a book. But I rarely read it as even with my Epic 4G’s large screen, it was not big enough for comfortable reading. On my Prime, reading is an enjoyable experience. I have finished three novels in the month I have had the tablet. I have become addicted to spider solitaire. Netflix is awesome again. Every app I enjoyed on my phone is better on the tablet–except, of course, calls and text messaging.
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The drawback (and its biggest complaint from the iPad crowd) is the lack of GOOD productivity apps for the Android platform. Asus ships the Prime with Polaris Office, a Microsoft Office compatible program that allows one to view and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentations. I found this app lacking, unfortunately and while there are alternatives, none have the full-functionality of a dedicated professional word processor. As a writer, this is quite distressing and it has kept me from using my tablet as I envisioned until tonight. I have had the WordPress app on the tablet from day two, but since I have never composed IN the app before, I didn’t know it has some really cool and productive features, including spell check.
Armed with this knowledge, I anticipate breaking my writers’ block that has kept my blog silent for more than 2 months. Let’s hope anyway. The action of this keyboard is fantastic for such a small and light device and with the Quad-core processor, the Prime is more than up to the task.
In full disclosure, many Prime owners have complained about WiFi and GPS signal issues. These complaints almost made me rethink my decision to buy one. Now, I will first say that I have experienced absolutely zero problems with WiFi on my Prime. It finds my networks at home and the office and here at a B&B in Smithville, Texas with no difficulty. I am streaming Tune-in radio right now with no buffering and no chirps, gaps or dropouts while I type this. Now as for the GPS issue, one: Google maps locates me using the WiFi positioning faster than any GPS ever found me. Two: Google maps requires a constant internet connection to work. The Transformer Prime is WiFi only (no 3G or 4G option is available) so having Maps work from the WiFi signal shouldn’t be a problem. Google Nav does need GPS to triangulate and plot course, so those who would use that feature may have an issue. I tried it twice and once it didn’t locate me and once it did and it worked for the duration that I used it. I see no problem in my case since I use my phone for GPS navigation anyway. It fits in the center console and this tablet won’t.
I also use my phone as a camera. The Prime has two cameras: one 8 MP rear-facing and a 2 MP forward facing. I have taken 2 pictures in the month I’ve had it. I take a lot of pictures both with my phone and my real camera; a Nikon D80. I can’t see the benefit of holding a full-sized tablet up to take a picture.
I love my Transformer Prime. It has replaced my Acer Netbook, but I won’t say it has killed the class of Netbook, merely replaced it.

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