When the Worst Happens

sickcomputer

 

It seems to finally be happening. I got a popup on startup of my computer saying that My hard drive is failing. I had a moment of panic, realizing just how much work and research is stored on my baby. I never think about what would happen should my hard drive fail. I had to take a few deep breaths and remind myself of a couple of key things:

  1.  I have my “spare” laptop from when I was taking online classes a year or so ago. It is in good condition, just not quite as speedy as my main laptop.
  2. I have some spare external hard drives with space to store my most important files.

So, I took a DEEP breath, and pulled out my hard drives, notebooks, etc. I wrote down any pertinent info I might need (Unlock codes for Writeitnow, my Scrivener info, etc.) Now, with all my most important documents accounted for, I am attempting to store a backup image for use should I decide to replace the HDD on my laptop, instead of purchasing a whole new unit.

While I wait to see how things pan out,  I’ve been thinking about how lax I’ve been about how lax I’ve been about keeping my information safe, in the event of a broken computer. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I still feel stupid for allowing this to happen. I always start out with the best of intentions when I buy a new computer. I create a back up, do it every couple of months, or when I make a major change to the computer. But then I start getting lax. After all, it is a time consuming process. And then I end up in a situation like this.

I have done a couple of things that are kind of smart. I use both Google Drive and Drop Box, so at least some of my documents are a bit safer. Not perfect, I know, but it is still better than nothing. I also back up all of my photos, videos, and music frequently on my external hard drives (that was a hard learned lesson!)

Is there anyone else out there like me, perpetually on the brink of disaster should your computer bite the dust? For those of you that are more cautious and actually do take preventative measures, what are your tried and true methods to secure your files?

 

Steampunk Gadgets: Enhancements

 

Having spent the better part of the last three years reading, researching, and writing steampunk, I have seen a LOT of interesting steampunk themed gadgets. Everything from steampunk styled computers and USB drives, to ornately designed costumes and props. Many of them have given me some ideas, not just for stories, but for some creative projects, should I ever get some free time to begin pursuing hobbies.

I am focusing on devices that enhance, or replace, body parts. My first attempt at capturing this type of device on paper was with a pirate that had only one eye. The other was replaced by a device that was able to sense movement, and body temperature. The idea at the time was that the technology was still new, and was not without its problems. If someone moved too quickly or too slowly, the eye had trouble registering it. The idea came to me while doing some research online, and coming across several photographs like this:

mechanical-eye

While not strictly Steampunk, photos like this inspired me to give Captain Drayton a dodgy artificial eye.

 

In a traditional historical adventure, my pirate would either wear an eyepatch, or simply allow the world to see his empty eye socket. But in a steampunk, or science fiction adventure, there are so many more options.  I am writing about a character in my WIP that ran afoul of some dangerous men, and lost a hand to them. Rather than accept a life without a hand, she now has an elaborate device that allows her close to full functionality of her old hand. The idea for that was inspired by the numerous costumes incorporating steampunk, or clockwork, prostheses. Depending on how the history of the world you create has developed, there is potential for some exciting replacement body parts for your characters.

steampunk-arm

Just about everyone has seen this photo floating around online. It was one of my inspirations for a character in my newest project.

In another project, elaborate prostheses inspired one of my characters to develop advanced automatons, which then leads to questions about the morality of creating machines that closely resemble humans. Is it right? Do automatons think and feel? If one is destroyed, is it a murder, or destruction of property?

Tying into my last post, photographs can be a great jumping off point when coming up with ideas for writing projects. just putting yourself into the mind of the person in the photo, imagining what they are thinking. Perhaps figuring out the logistics of how the prosthesis functions. Does it operate through the muscular contractions of the remaining portions of the limb? Is it powered via other means, such as clockwork? Or does it require the owner to operate buttons and switches for it to work properly?

With a goal to do more than just create steampunk prosthetics, I wanted to learn more about how they work and what the actual abilities and limitations of the devices are. Below are a couple of the websites I found while researching. Hopefully those interested in the topic will find them as informative as I did.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/prosthetic-limb.htm

https://www.humantechpando.com/how-does-a-prosthetic-leg-work/

World Building: A Steampunk Experience

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The best world building happens so far in the background, you don't even realize it.

The town was not a town, so much as a waypoint. People travelled through Upper Toppingsley to go somewhere more interesting.

I passed through the main thoroughfare – little more than a dirt path that ran between two neat rows of buildings. On one side a series of shops stood in a row. The local boutique with its wide windows displayed the fashions  that appealed to the ladies of the village. Large bustles were au courant, tightly laced corsets the ideal.

Between the boutique and the small bookseller next door I heard a steady hum. Tucked neatly in the narrow alley between was a small steam engine. The steady thrumming sound emanating from the device reminded me of the vibrations at the airfield. Despite my best efforts to put the thought of Constable Higglesby and the severed head from my mind, I wondered if there wasn’t some bit of information I had missed in the examination. Perhaps the second  murder could have been avoided if I had found some evidence on the head.

     This was an early victim of the slash and burn job I performed on my work in progress. Due to several changes I made to characters, as well as simply not being pleased with the passage, it was excised. The reason was simple. I attempted some world building while simultaneously trying to Advance a plot.
     I am not good at world building. There, I said it. It isn’t difficult, but I find it is often awkward to cram world building elements into a story. Besides just the physical world, I feel awkward when putting historical elements (real or fictional) into my projects. I find I am too often including too much information, bogging the story down.
     One of the central elements of my project is the development and use of the difference engine. Businesses within my story have begun to use these devices to run day to day operations, much like computers in the real world.
     With all of the world building details I am using, it often feels like I’m doing more telling than showing. Since I am only on the first draft, I won’t dwell too much, but it makes the editing process take much longer if I turn a blind eye to all of the rules I break while writing.
     I have been trying to learn from the authors I read. How do they create their worlds? How much information is shared with the reader? Are they using info dumps to share their world? Or do they spread the information throughout the story?
     As a reader, I don’t like info dumps. I forget information as soon as it is shared. I prefer to learn about the author’s world as I read. It helps the information to stick. If there is too much detail, I lose track. Sadly, it turns out I am a writer who info dumps.
     The solution: I act like the history is common knowledge. Anything too obscure gets an explanation; everything else is only explained when necessary.
     I do enjoy creating a history and civilization. When I work on a Science Fiction story, especially one that involves other planets and alien beings, I spend days creating their society. History, heroes and villains, and customs all help me to make a character feel more real. I know, realistically, that very little of that information will ever see the light of day, but it aids me in the writing process.
     My other area for improvement is consistency and accuracy. While my story is set in a Steampunk themed alternate history, certain elements must remain historically accurate. For example, a character in the story uses a form of wireless communication between his difference engine and his automatons.  Using radio waves to do this helps his automatons perform more actions without requiring larger processing capacity within each unit. The downside is that Guglielmo Marconi had not yet invented the radio, and radio waves were still considered theoretical at that point in history. What resulted was a long research session, extrapolations of possible what if scenarios to devise a possible alternate father of the radio.

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Why couldn't you have invented the radio 30 years earlier?

     Ultimately I decided a solution that works within the reality of the story. However, in doing so, I had to use an alternate naming scheme for radio waves. The result is the same, even if the characters’ understanding of the technology is incomplete. I just have to remember that I cannot use the word radio.  That is a difficult task.  So, my suggestion to other ambitious writers is, if at any point you are considering renaming technology or natural phenomena, consider the fact you may need to use that term frequently. Will you be able to remember to use it?
     For writers and readers, what are some world building elements that are difficult for you, whether you are writing or reading?