Ghost


In between editing sessions of
Reiterate (which is done, by the way, I just need to publish it), I was working on my first novella – a 110 page young adult cyberpunk story called Ghost. This story is something I would’ve loved to read as a teenager (and, to be honest, would still enjoy reading). I usually try to write for a broader audience, but this one is admittedly kind of niche, and as such, it’s hard to say if the same people that enjoyed Iterate will also enjoy Ghost.

That said, Ghost was the most fun I’ve ever had writing something and is a story I’m excited to put out in the world, even if it won’t reach the same audience. I came up with some concepts I’m super proud of, and if you’re up for a fun, technology-fueled ride, I’d urge you to check it out.

I’ll get a page up in the sidebar soon for Ghost, but in the meantime, you can find it on Amazon.

Source: PhilipDiStefano.com

Flash fiction neglect

I used to write a lot of flash fiction over on my woefully neglected writing blog, and it sort of bothers me more to see that blog go without updates more than this one. The thing is, I do write a lot, it’s just all long-form now. Maybe it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I’ve lost the ability to write short-form – everything just turns into a short story now. I tried posting chapters from my novels there before, but it’s impossible to keep up with edits and doesn’t feel worth the effort.

I’m writing about this here just because I’ve been thinking about it lately. I sort of miss my little 500-word inspired-by-a-song stories, even if they were too fleeting or kinda pointless. Flash fiction gave me the opportunity to write a lot of things I wouldn’t normally write about – main characters that I don’t normally create, situations that are outside of the usual young adult formulas.

There’s a line in a song that I’ve been listening to for a while now that gives me that vibe that I used to get when I’d write stories based on songs. I keep thinking I want to do something with that, but then I’m over here writing a story about espers and coronal mass ejections that takes up 100% of my writing time.

Anyway, I just wanted to get that out there. I’d say to expect updates there (and here) going forward, but I can’t make any promises.

So, about the delay…

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

I had several ideas for Reiterate when I started writing it in 2018. Some of them panned out, and some didn’t. This is the first sequel I’ve actually penned to completion, and there were a lot more challenges than I anticipated. It is wildly difficult to try to keep a story like Iterate straight because it contains so many world-building details. I had to rewrite a lot of sections of Reiterate several times, and I had to reread Iterate a couple times, all while taking notes and making edits to the sequel. Every rewrite requires editing, and it all just compounded into much more work than I thought it would be.

The gist of what I am saying is that Reiterate is nearly done, and I know I’ve been saying that for a while, but that’s still where it stands. I underestimated the process of writing a sequel, and that’s all there is to it.

Source: PhilipDiStefano.com

Mini Gaming PC

Life has been pretty hectic for the past month or so, and things aren’t going to slow down back to normal soon, but I feel like I’m at least over the most difficult (foreseeable) part. That doesn’t really account for the apparent four month gap in posting here, but, you know, blogging isn’t at the forefront of my mind.

One of the things I never got a chance to blog about was my new gaming PC build. If I’m being totally honest, the machine I built in 2015 was still perfectly fine, especially with the GPU upgrade I did last year. However, with the release of the new Ryzens, I got the itch. Last year I got the same itch because I wanted to downsize my tower, but managed to hold off, so this seemed like as good a time as any to do a new build.

I originally tried to build the smallest PC I could with a full size GPU and an AIO liquid cooler using a Dan Case A4. That turned into a cabling nightmare, so abandoned that idea, sold the Dan Case, and went with a bigger mini ITX case, the NZXT h200. I am not normally a fan of cases with windows, but I decided to give it another shot. The jury is still out on how much it’ll annoy me when dust starts to build up, but I put substantial effort into cabling, thoughtful layout, and tasteful LEDs. The messiest thing about the build are the AIO pipes, but there’s only so much I could do with them.

Pics of that are on my Instagram.

I really dig the way it came out. Now I just need time to futz around with the 3D printer I bought two months ago…

Reiterate Release Delayed (Again)

I usually try to set expectations pretty realistically, but I have done a bad job of that here with my last couple of updates. I just finished the second major round of editing on Reiterate, and there is still something bugging me about an arc in the middle that I need to fix.

My last update mentioned May 2019, but the reality of that happening seems unlikely at this point. For now, let’s just say “coming soon.”

Source: PhilipDiStefano.com

Japan

Visiting Japan has always been a dream of mine. The “About Me” page that I used to host here listed Japan as my dream vacation for around a decade, and before that, I can probably trace the roots of that desire to at least age 14 or 15. It started with anime (and video games, to a lesser degree), and evolved over time into a deep appreciation for the country and its culture. Getting to finally go this past month was an incredible experience that I hope to be able to have again without waiting another 18 years.

I’ve flown internationally only once before, but flying to Central America (and Canada, I would assume) is quite different from a transpacific flight. Our flight to Belize was a regular six-across Southwest 737 (or something similar). Flying to Japan was a wildly different experience. We flew ANA (All Nippon Airways), which is a Japanese airline, and while we were economy class, it was the nicest economy seat I’ve ever flown in (10 seats across also makes it the biggest). If you ever get a chance to go to Japan, I’d highly recommend this airline based on my one experience with them.

We flew into Haneda airport, got through customs, swiped ourselves through the monorail station (more on that later), converted a small amount of cash to yen, and that’s about how long it took me to make my first mistake. Everyone in Japan stands on the left side of the escalator, and there’s either another standing line or people walking on the right. I stood on the right, like a dumb American, and blocked people from walking. Whoops. Didn’t make that mistake again.

Japan is very orderly, something I really love about it and missed immediately when we landed back at our home airport and had to contend with American escalator “etiquette,” by which I mean one person taking up the whole moving walkway at RDU. It’s not just escalators, either. Most people always kept to the left side of the sidewalk, just as it’s sort of standard to keep the right side here in America, but people aren’t always great about.

We found our way to the hotel, which I knew would be small, but wowzers, was that jarring to actually see in person. If you are claustrophobic, you may not want to stay in a standard Japanese hotel room. I am not joking when I say that the open space in our hotel bathroom was as small as one of the bathrooms on the airplane. The room was just a place to sleep, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it was one of those things I was kind of done with toward the end of the trip (and there are very few things on that list).

The Japanese train system was very interesting. It’s one of those things I think I would hate if I lived there (due to rush hour), but as a visitor, it was incredibly convenient. You basically just put the English Suica app on your iPhone (or get a physical card if you’re an Android user or a Luddite), add some money to it, and swipe your phone on the terminal when you enter and exit a station. We probably spent about $10/day on travel, which is super reasonable, and there was a station a two minute walk from our hotel. Rush hour (and I would assume the last train of the day) was not a super pleasant experience though. Trains are so packed that people push in like sardines (still somehow in a very polite way) and brace themselves against the door frame until the doors close and their place on the train is secured.

Dining in Japan was really interesting for a couple reasons. Many Japanese restaurants have ticket systems when you walk in. You select what you want on the machine, pay, and you get a ticket that you hand to a person behind the seating area. The meals we had were generally inexpensive (some of my favorite stuff, like chicken katsu curry, was only around $7) and there is no tipping in Japan. We didn’t go to any fine dining places, but I generally felt like America could learn a thing or two from how the Japanese handle casual dining.

I couldn’t possibly give a daily play by play, but we got to visit a lot of incredible places, went to a bunch of neat shops, and ate some delicious Japanese food (some of which is not available here and I miss terribly). I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. WordPress’ gallery system is a little weird, so I’d recommend just scrolling down rather than clicking a picture and looking at the slideshow view (the portrait orientation pictures are stretched in that mode).

This trip was such a wonderful experience, I really can’t wait to go back. If you have the means to go to Japan, I’d highly recommend it.

The MacBook Keyboard Conundrum

After scouring Windows laptop reviews, deals, and new releases for more than half a year, and after buying and returning a 2018 Razer Blade 15 last summer, I finally broke down and bought a 2018 MacBook Pro (with Touchbar) late last year. I think at this point, you’ve all read reviews about these divisive Mac laptops, so let’s cover the basics in bullets and then address the meat of the divisiveness in full.

Pros:

  • Best-in-class trackpad. Period.
  • Aesthetically pleasing design paired with Apple’s usual craftsmanship and build materials/quality*.
  • Great battery life.
  • Runs MacOS. Look, I like Windows. I like Windows 10 a lot, actually. But I like MacOS better. Sorry, Microsoft.

Neutral:

  • Dongle-city if you don’t like or USB-C. This doesn’t bother me, as I rarely ever plug anything in my laptop that isn’t the charging cable.
  • Bezels aren’t big, but aren’t small. Looks a little dated next to its premium Windows laptop competition.

Cons:

  • Price. Any way you slice it, the MacBook Pro is more expensive than the most premium Windows laptops.
  • The Touchbar is indeed a gimmick that makes the whole machine cost more for no reason.
  • SSD and RAM soldered to logic board.
  • No touchscreen. There is no excuse for this in 2016, much less 2018. I will argue with you until I’m blue in the face that MacBooks need touchscreens.
  • Thermal design sacrificed for thinness.

Most of the cons are tolerable because the pros are so huge. The price I can swallow because I realize options are limited, and if I’m spending $1500 on a Windows laptop, I might as well spend $1900 and get the laptop I actually want. The Touchbar has other cons if you actually miss your function keys (I don’t) but I’d rather not pay $300 extra for something I don’t care about. Components not being upgradeable also adds to the price both upfront and down the road if those components need out of warranty repairs or force your hand in buying a new computer because you simply can’t deal with RAM or disk space limitations from when you bought your computer four years earlier. But again, I am fortunate in being able to absorb that blow, because I buy a new laptop around every three years anyway (with a warranty).

Sometimes I go to touch my MacBook screen and then I get sad, but I deal. I don’t run into thermal constraints too often considering my workload. While tradeoffs, clearly they’re not significant enough to affect my purchase, because the pros for me are pretty big. As much as there is a host of quality, non-Apple hardware out there, Apple has the market cornered on trackpad quality. There is simply no Windows laptop with a trackpad that comes anywhere close to Apple’s. Even if the feel and tracking quality gets really close, any trackpad that doesn’t allow me to get that physical-click feel anywhere on the surface feels broken by design.

But look, you’ve read the title of this article, and you know where this is going. This isn’t about trackpads or thermal design or Apple pretending like touchscreens can’t exist on their laptops. This is about keyboards.

There are two problems with the current MacBook keyboards (and all MacBook keyboards with butterfly switches), the first of which is that they’re objectively failure prone to the point where even the Wall Street Journal is chiming in on it with a remarkably well-done article. iMore claims that overall reliability has gone up, but keyboard reliability specifically has gone down. However, you’d be wise to note that David Hansson claims (and supports with “anecdata”) in the first article linked above that he doesn’t believe Apple is capturing the full extent of the keyboard problems in their metrics.

That’s the objective problem, and while my 2015 MacBook never experienced keyboard issues after I literally wrote several novels on it, the endurance of my new MacBook Pro is yet to be determined.

The subjective problem – and the thing I think is actually keeping more “regular” consumers away from newer MacBooks – is the feel of the keys themselves. Typing on a MacBook is not an ideal experience. Some people like the butterfly switches, so people hate them, and some people are pretty much indifferent, but the problem is exactly how divisive the keyboard is when it is the only keyboard offered in Mac laptops. If I like the Dell Inspiron but hate the keyboard on it, I can upgrade to the XPS or even the XPS 2-in-1, which both have different keyboards, or I can just go buy a Razer Blade or a Surface Book or whatever. In the Apple world, if you don’t like the butterfly switches, your alternative is a Windows laptop; there just isn’t a Mac option.

I am somewhat indifferent to the typing experience on the MacBook. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it. Keep in mind, I say this having written multiple novel-length works with this keyboard. With that much typing experience, I believe I am particularly well-qualified to say just how mediocre this keyboard is to type on.

That said, I want to make it very clear that the keyboard isn’t all form and no function. Yes, Apple made the travel ridiculously short to shave millimeters from the thickness of the overall device when there was really no reason to do so, but the stability of the keys is much improved. In fact, in that aspect, the MacBook keyboards are similar to mechanical keyboards, but they are severely lacking in every other comparable measure to a mechanical keyboard.

When I type on other laptop keyboards, I always notice how loose the keys feel, which is similar to when I type on regular desktop keyboards instead of one of my mechanical keyboards and it feels like there is a layer of mashed potatoes underneath the keys. But that key travel, ugh. If only the travel was farther, it would be the perfect laptop keyboard.

I am lucky in that I can type on almost anything. I think it started when I got a Surface Pro 3 with a type cover before Microsoft vastly improved the type cover with the Surface Pro 4. It took a bit of adjustment, but I was able to type on it pretty quickly, and I wrote something like half a novel or so on it before getting the SP4 type cover. As I mentioned, I also have several mechanical keyboards, and I’ve typed on plenty of regular old membrane keyboards in my life, including one of those split, ergonomic keyboards.

For those that are not so lucky, their typing suffers greatly on the MacBook keyboard. The lack of travel doesn’t give their brains the feedback they need to properly register when keys have been successfully pressed, and with that lack of feedback, the rate of typos is greatly increased. If I’m being totally honest, in the first 5-10 seconds it takes my brain to adjust, I probably make a few extra errors when going from my mechanical desktop keyboard to my MacBook keyboard. If your brain doesn’t adjust, then those typos are just a fixture of the device.

Apple created this super low-profile keyboard originally for its 12″ MacBook – the thinnest and lightest laptop they make. Along with the low-travel keyboard, it has one USB-C port, it has a Y-series processor, and that’s fine, because it is filling a niche where those trade offs are acceptable.

But on the Pro series MacBooks? It’s just totally unacceptable.

In a world where the keyboards on these machines weren’t failing as often as they are, we would still have a totally objective problem. Apple is the only manufacturer for MacBooks, and making design decisions that alienate as many people as these keyboards have is utterly absurd.

I can appreciate elegant form-over-function decisions. Apple makes a lot of these, and while extremely utilitarian people may not be fans, subjective things are subjective. Whatever, it’s fine. But these keyboards are anything but elegant. The MacBook Pro is functionally too thin – totally ignoring thermal design – because the keyboard is crippling this machine.

I don’t hate this keyboard. I really like my MacBook Pro. But Apple has to redesign these things.

The post The MacBook Keyboard Conundrum appeared first on Philtered Tech.

Source: Philtered Tech

Goings On

I’ve been trying to keep up with blogging, and it’s been a little difficult, but I’m still doing better with updates lately than I have last year or probably the year before.

So, what has been going on?

  • I have a new favorite king cake (Cannata’s gooey butter amaretto cream cheese (*insert chef’s kiss here*).
  • I finished my anime rewatch spree (True Tears was about how I remembered it – fun ride, disappointing end).
  • Apex Legends has been a ton of fun, but I’m really looking forward to them adding more game modes
  • My goal to read more often feel through in a spectacular fashion, so I guess I am replacing it with “play Beat Saber for 30 minutes five times a week.”
  • We are going to Japan soon (I fly a lot, but I’ll admit having quite a bit of anxiety over this long as heck, trans-Pacific flight).

I still want to write a sort-of-review about the 2018 MacBook Pro, because I definitely have some things to say about specific aspects of the machine, but I don’t feel like writing a full review. Also, I’m sure the Japan trip will warrant its own post at some point.

Editing on Reiterate is going kind of slow. I’m at the point where I’m getting burned out on it (it happens when you’re reading and re-reading and re-re-reading), but I did I take a small break in between to write something new, which can be found in my last post. I was shooting for April or May to be done, but I can pretty much guarantee now that April won’t happen, and May probably won’t either. I’d rather be sure it’s the best it can be, though, so I’ve gotta finish my due diligence on it.

That’s all for now.

Short story I’m working on

I don’t normally post stories I’m working on anymore, but in between editing sessions of Reiterate, I wrote a 7,000 word story intended as the first chapter of a new novel, and I’m not sure if I’m on to something. I personally like it, but it’s young adult cyberpunk, which I guess is sort of a weird combination.

Anyway, here it is.

Ghost (working title)

Rewatch

I have been on a pretty serious anime rewatch kick for the past several months. I used to watch Outlaw Star and Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien every couple years because they were my favorites, but I realized recently that I hadn’t seen Outlaw Star in around 5 years and KGNE in around 6. It’s honestly been very interesting to see how well these shows have held up against both modern shows and my memory of how good they were.

So, here’s the stuff I’ve rewatched (in the proper order) and my current thoughts on them (no spoilers/super duper light spoilers).

Outlaw Star – I couldn’t say how many times I’ve seen this show, but my guess is 6 or 7. This show has held up every time I’ve watched it, and I always notice weird new things about it. It’s not perfect by any means, but the 90’s animation is wonderfully charming, and I particularly enjoy the darker colors, music, and space western vibe. My enjoyment of this show almost definitely has a lot to do with nostalgia, but I also believe that anyone that didn’t grow up watching Toonami can still appreciate what this show has to offer.

.hack//SIGN – I rewatched the first episode of this show back in the late 00’s, but that was it. I started this rewatch parallel to Outlaw Star several months ago, and I still have a few episodes left. The original .hack was truly something special when it came out, as it was the show that popularized the “trapped in a video game” trope. It honestly did so in a much more interesting way than modern shows like Sword Art Online, but unfortunately, most of the rest of the show is pretty mediocre besides the music. .hack//SIGN has arguably the best anime soundtrack of all time, in my opinion, but the pacing, characters, and world building just aren’t that great. The animation was probably mediocre for the time as well, but I have a soft spot in my heart for early 00’s animation.

Toradora – I haven’t seen this show at all since my original watch a couple years after it came out (so around 2010). Pretty much everything about this show held up extremely well. Honestly, the only thing that truly dates the show is the usage of flip phones. If not for that, you wouldn’t be able to tell the show didn’t come out last year. That aside, Toradora does a great job developing characters and (light spoiler) is one of the most believable shows about not understanding your own feelings. Character interactions in this show are fun and sincere, and I say all of this despite one of the main characters being a tsundere – a trope I generally don’t like, but adore in this show. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending, which, upon rewatch, I still agree with. The end is simply not believable or up to the standard the rest of the show sets, but it doesn’t take away from the show being an overall great watch.

Clannad – This is another show I watched a couple years after it came out and haven’t seen since then (also around 2010). It’s the longest show on my rewatch list since it has two two-cour seasons (around 48 episodes). I remember loving Clannad, but honestly, after rewatching, my opinion of it has only improved. Clannad is brilliant. It’s heartwarming, it’s funny, it’s inspiring, it’s incredibly sad (you will probably tear up a few times during the second season). The animation is gorgeous even a decade later (Kyoto Animation did a truly phenomenal job), but you do have to get past the girls having giant eyes even by anime standards. The openings, the endings, the music in both of those and throughout the show, the story, the characters, I just cannot say enough good things about how amazing this show is. It’s such an experience that, just like the first time, I found myself constantly thinking about it when it was over. A week later, I was still wishing it wasn’t over.

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien – I’ve seen KGNE (which was called Rumbling Hearts in English, for some bizarre reason, despite not at all being the translation of the Japanese title) around 5 times, and I admit, the last time I watched it, I felt a little let down for some reason. This time, however, it brought me right back to how I used to feel. This is one of those rare anime that (extremely light spoiler) goes past high school and shows adults doing adult things. It’s quite dramatic and might make you tear up. The adult nature and the specific type of drama really set this show apart from other shows in the drama/romance category. That said, the animation in this show really does not hold up well. In fact, it may not have been particularly great when it originally came out in 2003/2004. There are some scenes set in a facility that should have tons of background characters and it’s just…empty. It’s kind of off-putting, but otherwise, definitely still worth the watch and remains high on my list of favorite shows.

School Days – I watched this one probably around 2009 and haven’t really touched it since then. The animation actually held up somewhat decently, and it has at least one pretty memorable song, but that’s not really what this one is about. (Fair warning, this blurb is kind of spoilery on basic plot points, but nothing major) It’s a really divisive anime, and I think a lot of people hate it because the main character is completely unlikable, and much of the story is based around a bunch of people actually liking him. I don’t blame people for watching this one and hating it because they were expecting something else, but I honestly liked it a lot the first time I watched it, and even more so the second time around. I would feel weird saying that it’s a breath of fresh air in its genre, so let’s just say that it’s very different in an unexpected way. The main character’s development is very much unlike most “self insert” boring main characters that this genre tends to churn out, which leads to frustration and pity for other characters, and that understandably turns some people off. There are ways this show could’ve been a lot worse, but the culmination of everything at the end really sealed it. Truly one of the most memorable anime endings I’ve experienced.

And that’s it for now. Next on my list is True Tears, which I’m only one episode into.