Monthly Archives: March 2018

Surface Pro Review

As promised, here’s my review of the Surface Pro I purchased a little over a month ago. For reference, I bought the 2017 Surface Pro, i5/8GB/256GB, and got the basic Surface Pro Keyboard and a Surface Pen for it.

First Impression: This thing is cool.

Second Impression: Seriously, it’s really cool. It’s like using something out of Star Trek. It’s every bit as powerful as my old laptop (mostly, more on that in a bit), while being considerably lighter and more compact. It does almost everything my old iPad can do, but better, with only a few exceptions.

The Surface Pro itself is a great tablet computer. I use both words there – tablet computer – instead of identifying it as one or the other, because it really can do duty as both. With a port replicator, an external monitor, and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, this thing would make a serviceable desktop computer. Disconnected from its own peripherals (power adapter and keyboard), it’s a solid tablet. I had to load an Android emulator (Bluestacks) to get access to tablet games, but I was soon happily poking around in one of my go-to games (Transformers: Earth Wars, which turned out to be MUCH easier to play with a mouse and keyboard than it ever was with a touch screen).

Coming from a Mac environment, I had to find a few replacements for old software friends. Apple Mail was obviously right out of the question, so I did some searching and tried out a few email clients, finally settling on one called eM Client. Sorry, Outlook fans, it’s just not for me – I don’t find it at all user friendly (and I use it all the time at work!). eM Client isn’t perfect, but it does everything I expect a modern email program to do: It handles my seven email accounts gracefully, provides me by default with a unified inbox and the ability to filter for unread mail, and allows me to drag-and-drop mail from one account to another without any hiccups. It’s pretty nice looking, too, and not bank-breaking expensive.

My go-to writing apps, Scrivener and FocusWriter, are both available on Windows, and while Scrivener 3 for Windows is still in beta, the beta is working very nicely indeed. Only a few bugs, and none that affect me directly.

The rest – browser bookmarks, calendars, contacts, and so on – all came over fairly easily. Microsoft’s built in (and very nice) Calendar and People apps both have options for connecting to iCloud, which is very convenient. And, of course, Firefox and Chrome are Firefox and Chrome, no matter what platform you’re on.

The Surface Keyboard is one of the finest typing experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of subjecting my poor, abused fingers to. The keys are very comfortable, with just the right spacing and amount of travel, and are very good for extended typing.

The Surface Pen is, for me, more of a gimmick than a tool. It’s very responsive, and yes you can actually write and draw directly on the Surface Pro with almost no noticeable lag. While I can definitely see it being a great tool for artists, graphic designers, and coloring books…for me, it spends most of its time magnetically attached (using surprisingly strong magnets) to the side of the tablet.

I added a 256GB Micro SD card for extra storage (there’s a Micro SD slot beneath the kickstand on the back), and put my music collection on that. There is precisely no lag time in reading from it, at least not that I can see, so music plays smoothly and without skipping. The last time I tried that – on my 2012 MacBook Air – the read time was so slow that music stuttered. Hooray for advancing technology!

So, what don’t I like? Well…it’s Windows. While Windows 10 has come a long way, it’s still a little quirky, at least from the perspective of a long-time Mac user. There are a few things here and there that don’t work the way I expect them to, but that’s a matter of adjustment. Yes, there’s more frequent updates, but that’s a good thing…Microsoft is working hard to patch vulnerabilities and fix bugs, something Apple does only half-heartedly at best these days.

It took me a while to get used to the new Start Menu, but remembering that I had a touchscreen to work with went a long way towards smoothing that out. I’ve even gotten used to the “Tiles” section of the Start Menu, and have begun to find it very convenient.

Its “lapability” (as the talking heads say) is acceptable. I don’t spend a lot of time using it that way, but the kickstand is sturdy enough to hold it up, and the keyboard is definitely solid enough to type on while on your lap. A word of advice: cover your legs (no shorts or short skirts) while using it on your lap. The kickstand WILL leave an indentation on your legs after a while. 🙂

Performance-wise, I have managed to make it slow down when I have a lot of windows open (or if I’m running Microsoft Word…jeez, Microsoft). I’m fairly certain that if I’d gone with one of the i7/16GB models, that wouldn’t happen. Next time.

The trackpad on the Surface Keyboard is kind of crap…there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s just a little bit too small to be used comfortably, and its not very good at ignoring palm input while I’m typing. Still, I’ve used worse…I’m looking at you, HP and Dell. But after the Mac trackpads, it’s definitely a step down.

Overall, I am really enjoying this thing. And it’s been fantastic for my writing…I’ve done more writing in the month since I bought my Surface Pro than I have in the last two years.

Rating: I give the 2017 Surface Pro a solid A. This is definitely the future of computers right here, a device which smoothly transitions from being a desktop, to a laptop, to a tablet, and does all of them pretty darn well.

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Posted by on March 31, 2018 in Computers, My Writing, Ramblings


When a Story Goes Off the Rails

Ah, Knights Errant.

Some of my readers will immediately recognize the name (Nate, I’m looking at you), and feel a certain amount of nostalgia for this colossal train wreck. Others will have heard me mention it, probably ruefully, while the rest of you are scratching your heads right now. That’s OK. Let me tell you a little story. Think of this, if you will, as an act of confession.

Forgive me, Readers, for I have sinned. 😉

Once upon a time, back when I was in college, I joined a group of fellow Rifts(tm) RPG fanatics called the Palladium Mailing List. There, I made some good friends, including one who’s still a friend all these years later. We argued rules variations, posted our own creations and conversions from other games and settings into the Palladium(tm) game system, and formed our own corporate entities in the Rifts(tm) setting.

During that time, I started writing an ongoing story set in the Rifts(tm) universe called Knights Errant. It was mostly a way to work out some of my ideas for expanding my own little corner of the setting, setting down some recurring characters, and just having fun. It was probably the first real long-form fiction writing I’d done outside of creative writing class assignments. When our relationship with Palladium(tm) collapsed (a story in and of itself), we went our own ways.

But I couldn’t let go of Knights Errant. So with some help (Nate, I’m looking at you again), I was able to strip out every element of the story that had been specifically part of the Rifts(tm…oh, forget it) setting, or a conversion from another setting. What I was left with were some amusing characters, and fragments of a story. With an effort, and a bit more help, I knitted the whole thing back together.

A new setting was created. An alternate timeline for Earth was written, covering the 1940s through the mid-2300s. It’s incredibly detailed, marking major turning points in human history, noting births and deaths of important characters, and covering a certain amount of geopolitical development of the planet. Technology was drummed up – some of it was even scientifically sound – and detailed, mysterious aliens were added, genetic modification became a thing for humanity…

And the most critical part of the story made itself known to me. The story would take place during a massive civil war, engulfing the Sol system and its colonies, and the sides would rotate around this: The survival of humanity as a pure, unchanging species, vs. the voluntary change and development of humanity into lots of sub-species.

It felt like a solid story idea. Still does.

The problem was that it became the backdrop of the story. At the time, I was convinced that letting the characters do their own things was the right way to go, that I had to listen to them and let them be who they wanted to be, regardless of my plans. My civil war turned into a personal revenge story, that morphed into something that resembled a mashup of Gundam, Macross, and Star Wars. Sort of.

It was going great. The characters were developing and interacting well, I wrote what I felt were dynamic and exciting battle scenes, and even managed to sneak in a romance that (looking back on it now) falls squarely into the Strangled by the Red String trope. It was big, huge, space opera stuff. I chose a theme song for it, and had even envisioned an opening sequence for an animated show based on it.

200–odd pages into the manuscript, I made a horrifying discovery: It no longer had a plot.

It didn’t just not have a plot…I had no clue where the story was going, no idea what the end point was going to be. I still don’t.

I stopped writing. Stepped back and took a long, hard look at it. Tried to get a feel for the shape of it. And failed.

And there the story remains, to this day, almost twenty years later. I have occasionally – every couple of years, if I’m being honest – taken a stab at repairing the damage. Sometime I try to pick up where I left off and bend the story to some end. Other times I start over from scratch, shuffling characters, adding or removing technology, changing the shape of it to try and make it roll.

I’ve even tried writing other stories set in the same universe. I usually make it a couple of chapters in, and realize that I’m not sure where I want them to end up.

But I can’t quite give up on it. It’s always there in the back of my mind, simmering, stewing, bubbling…but never actually cooking.

I suppose trying to make it work again and again is my act of contrition. 😀

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Posted by on March 17, 2018 in My Writing, Ramblings


So, it’s been a while…

Yeah, I know, I’ve been amazingly lax in posting…well…anything on my blog. I’m not good at blogging, and I’m not too proud to admit it. Work has been grinding me down the last couple of years, and I haven’t had the time or energy to do much writing. I’m trying to break that trend.

I’ll start with a quick update on the state of my writing. After a year of slow editing and rewriting, my first non-Kinnear novel, Pluto, is just about ready for publication. It’s with my proofreaders, who seem to be enjoying it, and I’m starting to shop around for an actual agent. I’ll write more about that soon.

For those who’ve been waiting for it with baited breath (I really hope you’re actually out there!), the third Kinnear novel, Seasons of Healing, is almost done. I’m working on the last chapter, and then it’ll go to my proofreaders and editors to be ripped to shreds. 🙂

I haven’t taken part in National Novel Writing Month since the last time I wrote about it (2015), since the hardcore writing grind that year nearly burnt out my desire to write! There’ve been some changes to my writing toolkit lately though, so I’ll just mention the most dramatic: I’ve purchased a Surface Pro, and I’m in the process of migrating away from the macOS.

I honestly don’t think that Apple cares about its computer users anymore. They’re so busy producing phones and tablets with crippled operating systems, working on autonomous cars and going “All in” on original programming for the AppleTV (their words, not mine!), that they’ve forgotten they used to make computers.

Seriously, guys…you can’t keep calling your Server components “macOS Server” when you’re taking out DNS, DHCP, email, web services, and pretty much everything else that makes it a server! And for god’s sake, upgrade the Mac Mini and stop using those crap totally flat keyboards on your laptops!


The good news is that Focuswriter ( and Scrivener (, my favorite writing programs, are also available for Windows. Hopefully, version 3 of Scrivener will be finished soon…in the meantime, I’m working well enough with the beta version.

But yeah, I’ve gone back to Windows. The Surface Pro is a superb piece of hardware in every way, but most importantly (to me) is that the keyboard is the most comfortable I’ve used on a device this portable. It is, in fact, possibly the most comfortable keyboard I’ve used on a laptop computer since my old Sager laptop (which was a cinderblock compared to this thing). I’ll write more about my impressions of the Surface Pro and Windows 10 another time.

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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in My Writing, News, Ramblings, Rant