Dear Apple, Microsoft: Give Us the Choice Regarding Updating Our Computers

Note:  though this article applies to MacIntosh systems as well, this article references Windows versions.

Remember the old days when you used to be able to turn on your computer, boot it up, and KNOW in a few seconds it was ABSOLUTELY GOING TO WORK?  No spinning wheels, no pins or passwords for your desktop unless you decided to lock your desktop specifically, and no automatic operating system updates?

windows-10

Hard to believe but we had exactly that on windows versions 95 through 7.  Computers were computers and you knew when you turned yours on that at very least your operating system was going to work smoothly and able to run the word processing, spreadsheet, and other essential programs that we all take for granted in a digital age where paper versions and typewriters are a thing of the past.  If you couldn’t connect to the internet (for whatever reason, including not having a dial-up modem back in the old days) you could still work on your computer. It was a machine like any other in your home or business.  Flip the switch and get to work.

That all started to change in 2012 when the first Windows 8 machines rolled out.  Windows 8 was the first Windows OS that imposed updates on users without the option of not updating.  Microsoft sees this as simplifying our lives–but it comes at a price for users.  When you control the updating process you are in control of the down time created by the updates and can break up the process to fit your schedule and needs.

Windows 8 saw the start of this automated process by forcing all updates on users — whether that update applied to the system or not.  That is to say that since Windows 8 treats smart phones, laptop computers, and desktop computers as the same an update that only applies to a smart phone is installed on regular computers.

But at least you could turn off the auto-updates and choose to update when you didn’t need to use your computer.

That key piece of control is OBLITERATED in Windows 10 and most noticeable recently with the new anniversary updates which take control over your machine (even if you are using it, though it’s not supposed to) and updates the system — kicking you out of your computer completely until it’s finished.  What is worse, information about the update is no longer being displayed.  Instead of telling you about the update’s progress and offering a specific time estimate the SCREEN GOES BLACK with ONLY A WHITE SPINNING WHEEL DISPLAYED.  Users have no way of knowing if the update is progressing or if it is stuck and the machine needs to be completely turned off.

In essence you are stuck with a spinning wheel, unable to get into your computer and unable to schedule work and home office activities around it.  Since you cannot decide when it hits and for how long, users lose control over their machines and their lives.

 

Microsoft and Apple both do this with their latest OS; they see it as streamlining our lives since there is nothing manual about the process.  But tell me, how is taking away my computer from me with no way to override it helping me?  I have a home office. My computer is a tower system run from a desk in my home.  I don’t just use this machine for the internet; it’s my job, my work, everything that is social, entertainment,and especially professional about my life.  I don’t want it controlled by Microsoft (or Apple if I used a Mac).  I NEED TO BE IN CHARGE OF MY COMPUTER AND MY OWN TIME.

All because Apple and Microsoft have stopped treating the OS as a product to be installed on a machine and now treat it as a SERVICE to be CONTINUOUSLY PROVIDED — like your subscription to Amazon prime.

But I can cancel my Amazon prime subscription if I don’t like it or don’t want it.  I can’t cancel my operating system on my computer.

 

Internally this concept is spreading across Microsoft with the release of Office 365 which makes Office programs like Word and Excel SERVICES NOT PROGRAMS.  Photoshop CC is also a service-based program — but given the traditional high expense of Photoshop (sometimes $2000 for a single user), I don’t mind paying $11 per month for Photoshop.  But my key programs — Windows, Word, Excel — without which I cannot work in a given day — different story!

 

And so I’m asking for a return to sense with computers.  It’s fine if Apple and Microsoft want to make these updates easier for those who don’t want to be in charge.  But DESKTOP AND LAPTOP/NOTEBOOK USERS NEED THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE.  Smart phones ARE different from traditional computers.  They need to be treated as different.  Windows 10 is FANTASTIC for smartphones — but it’s TERRIBLE for traditional PCs.  It’s time to bring back MORE personalization and MORE control of the home computer to the user.  Let people decide if they want a service-based or traditional program based (give me my windows on DVD as a backup!) operating system.  Let them decide how they want the interface to work.  STOP IMPOSING SMART PHONE NORMS onto keyboard/mouse systems.  Give me back control over my computing and my computer.

I deserve nothing less!

Review: Christopher Eccleston and Elizabeth (1998)

The 1998 film “Elizabeth” by “The Tudors” creator Michael Hurst has a longstanding reputation as a sort of guilty pleasure among those who love Tudor history and re-enact various facets of Elizabethan England.  Well written and often beautiful to watch, it can be great fun to watch — if you can stomach the many historical errors of course.

It’s a film I’ve more or less enjoyed (depending on my mood regarding the inaccuracies) since it first came out.

Standing out from the all star cast of Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush is one actor whose name I honestly never noticed in all these years.  The role:  Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk (not to be confused with his grandfather, also named Thomas Howard, the Third Duke of Norfolk who was maternal uncle to Anne Boleyn).  The actor:  Christopher Eccleston.

christopher-eccleston-as-the-4th-duke-of-norfolk

Christopher Eccleston is Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk (1536-1572)

In a film fraught with constant historical licenses (for example early in the film Robert Dudley stands at Elizabeth’s side when she is notified she is accused of treason following the failed Wyatt Rebellion of 1554.  In fact Robert Dudley participated in Wyatt’s Rebellion and was arrested several weeks before Elizabeth), Christopher Eccleston’s performances stand strong.  They are, arguably, perhaps the best reason to watch “Elizabeth,” portraying Thomas Howard as accurately as the script allows with the coolness, detachment, and stage presence that audiences came to love seven years later in the role that has made Eccleston a household name.

The Doctor.

ninth-doctor

In 2005 Christopher Eccleston took on the iconic role of The Doctor in the revival of Dr Who.

In both roles Eccleston dominates each scene — even when he is standing (or in the case of Elizabeth, often bowing) still.  You literally cannot take your eyes off him; he stands out from every ensemble, no matter how large.

And so despite all Elizabeth’s errors, I find myself watching this film time and time again, sucking up the annoying part and fast forwarding past the explicit sections (including some very explicit sex scenes featuring a very naked Eccleston where nothing is left to the imagination).  The history of the film is often dreadful — more so now than ever for me following the 2015 release of “Queen Elizabeth Tudor: Journey to Gloriana” and all the research I put into it.  But Eccleston’s performances are truly that good. He is the best reason to watch this film and the best reason to watch Dr. Who, a series I have, until very very recently ignored.

Whether your passion is history or Dr. Who, Christopher Eccleston makes “Elizabeth” a film worth watching.

 

Review: TravelPro Maxlite 4 tote & spinner

If you follow this blog you know I move around a lot and I travel as often as I can to visit historical sites and sample delicious food I don’t get to eat regularly.  I travel by primarily by train and plane for most trips over 10 miles from home and use public transit for shorter distant trips.  I also use my luggage for shopping via public transit, a trick I learned after canned foods spilled out of my shopping wagon while crossing a busy Brooklyn street several years ago.  So I need something lightweight, durable, and flexible, bags that can handle grocery trips to Walmart as easily as a cross country or international flight as easily as a move to a new home.

American tourister carry on bag

Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on bag has been with me on every flight I’ve ever taken. It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

After twenty six years of use and abuse with all of the above I have FINALLY retired my American Tourister shoulder bag carry on I’ve used for every move, every flight, every Amtrak trip I’ve ever taken.  Indeed, it’s still a great bag — if you don’t need something with wheels on it.  That’s why it will still be used for moving, for packing day one items, but for regular travel it’s been retired.

Why the sudden change?  Simple!  I found something better than my shoulder bag and much better than the Skyway brand bags I’ve used for nearly 20 years, bags which rarely come off the baggage claim carousel without some sort of damage.

When shopping for luggage this summer (partially to take advantage of summer sales) I fully expected to buy another American Tourister, a Samsonite, or other major brand bag.  Fortunately for me I consulted Consumer Reports first and discovered that in 2016 the big name brands have performed much worse than lesser known brands in their tests. So it was time to expand my search and find something affordable that also scored well with Consumer Reports.

That is how I discovered the TravelPro brand, a $$ priced brand that is durable, flexible, and easy to use. Among their many collections, the MaxLite 4 bags caught my eye for being reasonably priced and having the features I want most in both carry on and checked bags. An added plus:  it comes in blue, black, and a very eye catching and fashionable purple.

maxlite 4 tote frontmaxlite 4 tote open

After looking at nearly 100 different bags marked “under seat” on ebags.com I decided upon the MaxLite 4 tote which (minus the wheels) is 15.5″ x 13″ x 8.5″.  Ebags sells it for $85 which is also the price on Amazon.com.  But ebags is deceptive:  they claim the MSRP for the bag is $200 — making you think you are getting a sale price and an incredible deal when in fact every competing website offering this bag sells it in the $82-$89 range.

As you can see, this is a very simple, flexible carry on.  It has a front pocket for your travel documents and an open interior space with a mesh pocket on the lid.  Unique to this bag are the velcro fastened side gussets which enable you to access the bag contents without opening it all the way (and having your belongings spill out onto the floor). The bag rolls very smoothly and the handle is the perfect length for easy navigation around an airport or on a train. Best of all:  it holds a LOT of stuff while still fitting neatly under the front seat on most air craft.

travelpro maxlite 4 29 spinnerI love this bag so much I just had to get a matching checked bag. I chose the 29″ spinner (which technically is slightly oversized because the wheels are not part of the listed 29″ x 20.25″ x 12″ dimensions; with the wheels it’s 30 7/8″ x 20.25″ x 13″) and I am so glad I did.  I am also very glad that I bought mine on Amazon.com where it sells for $153 compared to ebags $167.  As with the tote, Ebags deceives you into thinking their higher price is a great deal by claiming the MSRP is $360.

The interior on this bag is very basic and therefore very flexible with two straps for securing your belongings, a small mesh pocket, and a full size lid pocket.  Unlike most bags I’ve owned, the lid pocket zips around three sides, allowing you to lay flat choice clothing items.  The exterior has a single, full size lid pocket.  The handle is short — it’s designed to be used on all four wheels instead of tilted and rolling on two wheels.  The handle makes navigating airports easy, but it is about four inches too short for stacking the matching tote onto it which is really my only criticism of it.

After taking a test run to Walmart I must say I am extremely happy with my spinner, so happy that I would very much like to get the 26″ bag to complete the set.

No matter how you travel or where you are going to, you cannot go wrong with the TravelPro MaxLite 4 series.  I hope you will check out the entire collection because this is a very durable, easy to use, and flexible collection, especially for someone like me who prefers to organize with my packing cubes instead of a bag forcing me to organize a certain way.  It is hands down the best bags I’ve ever owned.  Just be certain to shop around for the best price because deals are to be had if you do.

 

Babelcube beware: what authors need to know before signing a Babelcube contract

Boudicca German web

The German edition of Boudicca was beautifully translated by Christina Loew. Thanks to frequent communication and Ms. Loew’s professionalism, the translation process was smooth and easy — exactly what most authors are looking for when joining Babelcube.

If you subscribe to this blog you know that in 2016 I took my books deeper into the global market.  After an exasperating fore into the Chinese market via Fiberead, I had high hopes for Babelcube, a platform for translation that mirrors many of the features familiar to authors who use Amazon’s ACX.com site for audio production.  But as with ACX, successful production and publication requires understanding the system and knowing how — and when — to walk away from something that is not working.

The ability to walk away is important for independent authors because a poorly translated book is damaging to the author’s brand; it reflects on the author as much if not more so than the original editions written by the author in her or his native language.  Therefore an author’s career is at stake each time the author signs a translation contract.  Don’t mess with this, my friends.  As much as you want to be sweet and nice when it comes to dealing with potential translators your life depends on you being picky and walking away when you can from any deal or possible deal that doesn’t uphold your author brand.

The first place you can walk away is when a translator first sends you an offer to translate.  This is the best time to fully vet the candidate.  Don’t skimp on this and do not feel obligated to accept any particular offer. We all want to be nice and we want to give people their break into a new career.  The problem with doing that is you may end up with poor quality work because the person has never been tested in the professional world as a translator.  Before signing anything TALK TO THE TRANSLATOR — don’t just look at the profile and give the person the benefit of the doubt because s/he seems likable.  Remember that this is a form of job interview and treat it as seriously as any job interview you’ve been on.  If anything does not smell right or you aren’t sure of anything at all politely decline.

But let’s say you’ve accepted the contract.  The next place and final place you can walk away is when the translator submits the first ten pages. In evaluating these, don’t just look at the words on the page but the FORMATTING because, as with your own books you self-publish, the formatting and editorial can make or break the book.  If anything seems like you would not submit those ten pages as a stand alone, polished work DECLINE THEM — this is your last and ONLY chance to get out of the contract.  Despite what you may see in the system, this is the actual point of no return for you.  Once those ten pages are accepted you are committed to publishing the book — no matter the quality of the final product you are given.

And this is the part that no one ever mentions to you:  you cannot decline to publish a completed book on Babelcube — even though there is a button in the review process that says “decline this translation.”

What happens if you do hit the “decline” button?  Firstly you are asked to confirm and warned that confirming the decline will open a dispute with Babelcube.  What this means is that they will investigate and make a ruling.  If they rule for you, the translator has to fix the errors.  If they rule against you then you owe the translator an undisclosed amount of money.  But the system doesn’t tell you that.  I found out by asking via email after I reviewed the final document on one of my books and deemed it of such poor quality that I was not comfortable with continuing.

In essence you have to approve the final book.  You can ask for some changes (hit “return” and then send a message to the translator to do so), but you actually DO have to hit “accept translation” and then publish the book. “Reject translation” means you are willing to pay for the translator’s time for a book that you will not publish.

For most people it’s far cheaper to enlist the help of someone outside of Babelcube’s system to help you fix the document so you can publish — which is exactly what I am doing right now.

This is why it is critically important that you wait until each translation is complete before signing another contract with a translator. Even after publishing one or two books all the way through the process (meaning the book is live Amazon, iBooks, Scribd, etc.) with a translator, my experience shows that it is best to only contract one book at a time with a specific translator.  Life happens and schedules change.  Limiting yourself to one contract at a time per translator helps everyone balance time and priorities to the satisfaction of all parties and empower everyone to create the best work possible.

In summary, Babelcube can be an excellent platform for translating books into multiple languages.  But success with it requires the author always beware of its inner workings and courageous enough to walk away from any project that does not meet expectations either before the contract is signed or when receiving the first ten pages.

This is your brand.  Protect it.

History Profile: King William II (Rufus)

270px-William_II_of_EnglandDate of Birth: circa 1056

Place of Birth: Normandy

Date of death:  2 August 1100

Spouse: none

Issue: none

Successor:  Henry I

Openly homosexual and sceptical of the church in a time where questioning Church doctrine was almost unheard of, King William II was the favourite son of his father, William I (the Conqueror).  In 1087 William inherited the throne of England from his father; his elder brother Robert received Normandy while his younger brother Henry received money. A warrior like his father who stammered when he spoke, William worked to extend his father’s conquest of England into Wales and Scotland.  He forced King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland (of Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” fame for his death at MacBeth’s hands) to swear fealty to him and acknowledge him as overlord.  In Gwynedd Wales he retained King Harold Godwinson’s puppet King Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, using him to displace King Gruffydd ap Cynan and force him into exile in Ireland.  In 1093 in Deheubarth, William II’s knights killed King Rhys ap Tewdur at the Battle of Brycheiniog, forcing his four sons into exile, including Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys (the future husband to King Gruffydd ap Cynan’s daughter, Princess Gwenllian).

William Rufus ordered the construction of some of the most famous and infamous castles in all of Wales including Chepstow Castle (1087, the year of his coronation) in Carmarthanshire and Pembroke Castle (birth place to Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys and Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd’s descendent, King Henry VII) in Pembrokeshire in 1093.

In England William Rufus was a passionate hunter who continued his father’s cruel Forest Laws (of Robin Hood fame) and extended them.  It was his love of hunting that opened the door for his younger brother Henry.  On 2 August 1100 under mysterious circumstances King William was struck in the lung by an arrow.  Walter Tirel is given the blame for firing the deadly arrow; many believe it was done on Prince Henry’s orders as a way of getting rid of a violent, impious, and almost universally hated king.

 

Though most people consider Henry I’s descendent King John the most hated king in medieval history, the prize rightfully belongs to King William Rufus whose wars and violent nature not only made him the bane of most English women and men but set the stage for the challenges still experienced forging a united kingdom out of England, Scotland, Wales, and northern Ireland.

History Profile: King Henry V of England

330px-King_Henry_V_from_NPGDate of Birth: 16 September 1386 at Monmouth Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales.

Date of Death: 31 August 1422 — dysentery contracted while on campaign near Paris, France.

Spouse:  Queen Catherine de Valois (married 6 June 1420)

Issue: King Henry VI of England — House Lancaster

King Henry V of England is one of the most celebrated of English monarchs.  Immortalized by Shakespeare in “Henry V,” the myth created by the play conceals the real person whose short life was characterized by bloody warfare, a ferocious temper, and vindictive violence.

King Henry was thirteen years old when his father, Henry Bolingbroke successfully wrestled the throne of England away from his cousin King Richard II to become King Henry IV.  Very soon after his father’s coronation, Owain Glyndŵr declared himself Prince of Wales and commenced one of the most successful wars of independence against English colonization in Welsh history.

Schlacht_von_Azincourt

The Battle of Agincourt. 26 October 1415.

Not surprisingly, King Henry IV sent Prince Henry to Wales to crush the Glyndŵr revolt, suffering personal injury when a Welsh arrow struck him in the face.  Prince Henry responded with brutal vengeance in a pattern seen throughout his life, especially in his campaigns in France while king.  King Henry V did not believe taking prisoners of war; those who surrendered after a defeat could expect to be executed. Henry believed that any person who challenged his authority, even when forced into military service against him, was a threat to his life and his crown. This included the women and children living in the towns and cities Henry laid siege to.  It was a bloody reign.

Learn more about King Henry V through the eyes of his relationship with his queen consort in “Catherine de Valois.”  Available in digital, paperback, and audio editions.

History Profile: Queen Boudicca

Date of Birth:  circa 30 CE

Place of Birth:  unknown — likely Gaul

Date of death: 60 or 61 CE — suicide

Spouse: King Prasutagus of the Iceni

Issue: none surviving

Queen Boudicca is the national heroine of England for a reason:  she united rival British tribes and won several military victories against the Romans in a time when that was deemed impossible.

Often depicted as a vengeful warrior out for blood on a personal vendetta, the real Queen Boudicca ruled as her husband’s co-sovereign over the small but technologically advanced and religiously devout Iceni nation.  In 60 or 61 CE King Prasutagus died mysteriously.

Though often assumed to be old age by many, the timing of his death relative to the Roman military campaigns on the Welsh island of Ynys Môn coupled with the terms in Prasutagus’ last will and testament suggest otherwise.  Prasutagus was worth more dead than alive to the Romans, especially as the Romans did not recognize Celtic laws and customs which granted women near complete equality to men.  With his family members all female, the Romans were eager to remove Prasutagus and fully conquer the Iceni.  This suggests to me his death was violent and at Roman hands.

When the Romans invaded her lands, Boudicca did what any sovereign or co-sovereign would do:  she mounted a defence.  After losing the first battle with the Romans in her own community at which she and her daughters suffered outrageous torture and injury, Boudicca struck back, determined to prevent the Romans from harming her people again.

It worked better than she could have expected.  Other tribes, especially her southern neighbour the Trinovantes joined with her, forming a rare confederation that eventually spread across several tribes.

Boudicca achieved unity from within the boundaries of her free and very individualistic society, proving that liberty and unity can exist when we put aside what divides us and choose to work together.

 

Read more about Boudicca in “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” in your choice of English, Welsh, Welsh-English, Chinese, and Spanish.  Audio edition narrated by Richard Mann.