Journal 5-16-20: I need some space, Google

green exit sign

My relationship with Google is entering an “I need space” phase.

This all started when I got a notice across all my Google services saying I’d run out of space. I fall in a strange place in their usage tiers. I was using 270GB, but have to pay for 2TB, which comes out to $99 a year.

I’ve been using Gmail since I had an early invite sometime back in 2002 or so. I thought Google Drive came sooner, but it looks like I’ve been using is since launch in 2012. I tried Buzz, Wave, and was a big fan of Google RSS Feeds.

I was sold on the beginning of the idea of never having to delete anything. Back in 2002, the idea of having all my email available, out of sight but available through search, was fascinating. I could have a database for my life. 

There have been a few times this was useful. A few business dealings that were easier because I had the emails to show where something had happened the way I said it did. I had the names and contact info of all people involved. The amount of bytes those emails take up is negligible. 

I imagine the rest of my gmail account storage is made up of all the advertising emails I stopped bothering to delete. I archived them and felt accomplished because my inbox was empty. I can only recall a few times that I went back to search for a coupon code.

My Google Drive has been useful backup, but I realized that the files I was backing up weren’t anything I bothered to look at again. I’ve realized that I have some real digital hoarder tendencies. I’m always saving drivers, old software, PDF files or articles. I like the idea of being able to go back and find these files, but I never actually do. Or I haven’t yet. I’ve wasted hours collecting these files and saving them. (If you like Alphasmart Neo machines, I have all the Palm software available for them. I have old Linux distros, Mac software when I don’t currently use an Apple products, the list goes on.) As storage became cheaper, I would move these files from drive to drive, and then back them up to Google Drive.

Then Microsoft got me. I’ve been using Word for most of my work editing, and I got a terabyte of storage included with my Office 365 subscription. This was the same price as two terabytes storage with Google, but I only had 270GB in Google Drive. I was wasting money here, so I decided to backup all the Google Drive files to my PC and move everything over to OneDrive.

Throughout my career, I’ve used Google Drive during meetings to open a text file and take notes. I used Google sheets to map budgets or just list tasks, collect information that was best arranged in cells. It’s possible I’d created thousands of these files.

They’re all gone now.

I didn’t realize that the “backup” in Google’s “Backup and Sync” application doesn’t actually backup Google Doc files to your PC. It only saves pointers to your online drive. I’m sure this information was available. I probably read it somewhere. I should have checked the files before I started deleting files in Google Drive.

But I didn’t. And now I’ve deleted most of my digital archive dating from 2012. Not necessarily the random files I uploaded. I lost the files I created in Google Docs. That feels like an extra gut punch.

What’s interesting is that I don’t feel worried about it. I’ve realized that I was never going to look at most of those files again and they probably won’t have relevance on my future life. In a way, the files were always invisible. I was trusting Google to hang onto them for me, and if Google has done anything consistently, it’s take away features they once offered. What do they say about relationships: Pay attention to what people do, not what they say?

There are a few recent series outlines that I lost that will need to be re-written. That hurt, but I also know it’s something I can do again. That’s just time. The other notes and files belong to a part of my life that’s behind me now. 

(I also had the feeling of frustration that I see on seniors faces when technology doesn’t make sense. I thought I understood how to use this, and it didn’t work as I expected. That’s an incredibly frustrating and defeating feeling.)

As I get older, having grown up on the internet, I go back and forth on “right to forget” laws. I remember the rhetoric about accountability, transparency, and moral behavior that would be brought on by always having access to your thoughts and behavior. That’s true for bad actors. For most of us, I think our digital shadow is just a weight we have to carry. One of the promises of the future is reinvention, and that’s hard to do when you can always go back and read the stupid things you said in 1999 on Metafilter.

I’ve also been thinking about writing and creativity when you can iterate a document you created five years ago. I remember reading some writing advice from the seventies, where the author talked about using a typewriter, and how they advised every writer retype the previous day’s last page, just to get a sense of where they were going. They would also retype an entire short story from memory once the first draft was done. That way they had a consistent tone and voice, and anything that didn’t make it into the remembered version probably wasn’t important anyway.

We don’t work that way anymore. The digital version is always there. It’s multiple versions still live in Track Changes. I wonder how historians of the future will study manuscripts or novels to see how changes took place. Will Track Changes make things easier, or will they need to log into special AI-powered machines to even access the old software?

I feel recently like my focus is a window I have to force open everyday. Everything is fighting me to keep the window closed. Notifications on my phone. My toddler. My dog. As I edge the window open, all the junk in my mind is also dragging down the moment of creation. Have I written this before? Should I go search for the file and just work off that? Am I not being as productive as I could be?

I think I’m going to spend more time focusing on the next sentence in front of me. Writing new sentences that become new whole ideas. If I repeat myself a bit, I can go back and look at the finished previous version. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just keep writing forward.

As far as my files go, I’m going to give OneDrive a shot for a while, since it appears to save everything in Office format as a whole file on my PC. I may look at some other backup provider if I go over 1TB, but that’s a ways off.

I’m thinking about dumping gmail for my personal email as well. I want to delete more and not trust some other party to decide what’s important to me or not. I’ve archived thousands of emails and never looked at them again. It would better if those bytes were just gone. 

I’m still thinking about that.

Thanks for reading.

James

You can email me at james[at]jamesaaron.net.

Image: Unnamed Road, Youxian Qu, Mianyang Shi, Sichuan Sheng, China by @1amfcs

4-15-20 Newsletter

Hello! I hope you’re doing all right.

We’re finally into spring weather in Oregon, so while everyone is stuck at home, at least we can go outside. When you’re on lockdown with a toddler, that’s a huge deal. 

My big news is that Galactic Law 3: Galactic Jury is out. I had a lot of fun with this book and it’s already a #1 New Release. 

 Galactic Jury is here: https://amzn.to/3dHssSs

//Cool Stuff//

The Classic Science Fiction Podcast: Free Audio Short Stories

I’ve started a podcast where I read science fiction and fantasy short stories from before the year 2000. I’ve got a library of thrifted magazines, collections and anthologies that I’ve been wanting to read for a while, so this project is a kick in the pants to get going.

One of the first stories is Duty Calls by Anne McCaffrey. You can listen here: https://www.classicsciencefiction.com/2020/04/13/csfp-002-duty-calls-by-anne-mccaffrey/. It’s from the collection The Girl Who Heard Dragons.

I share whatever info I can find about the author and the story if it’s available. I hope you enjoy!

Thanks for being a reader!

James

jamesaaron.net/books

//Latest SF Art Discoveries//

Depart by Josh Pierce

Depart by Josh Pierce
 


The Song Dynasty, Aidelank Yang

The Song Dynasty, Aidelank Yang


Service Depot by Wadim Kashin

Service Depot by Wadim Kashin

Blood & Thunder by Mark Finn

I’m reading Blood and Thunder by Mark Finn, a biography of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, and I’m amazed at how many letters the young men of 100 years ago wrote to each other. (Also how important being a Texan was to the creation of Conan.)

I’m really enjoying it so far. Bob Howard was a character. A boxer, a dreamer, over shadowed by his parents and especially his mother’s health. Comparing him to the “Lost Generation” writers working in Paris at the same time, his suicide was a real loss to American letters, especially voices from the working class.

I’m also wondering how biographers of the future will know anything about us and our interpersonal communication… with our work locked up in Google Drive and Office 365, and our communication scattered between Facebook, Twitter, TikTok?, etc. all locked behind personal accounts that belong to private companies, how will anyone construct a picture of what it was like to live after the year 2000?

Biographers will need AI to sift through all the junk after paying different database companies for access.

Do video games influence your writing?

How games tell stories, part 1 \\ Luderacy \\

The Career Author Podcast asks: Do video games influence your writing?

And I have to say yes. Big yes.

Do they make me a better storyteller? Well, I’m always working on that.

(Here are some notes I wrote as an answer.)

I turn 45 this year and I finally had to admit that I love gaming, specifically PC gaming. I never had an NES or Gameboy as a kid, but my parents thought there was value in having a family PC, and I back in the day did everything I could to hunt down games. I copied thousands of lines of code out of the back of magazines. I found convenience stores that sold shareware discs beside the cash register, and the obsession grew from there.

It’s funny, because I think of most of Zach’s examples as being console games. I haven’t been able to play Horizon Zero Dawn or Last of Us yet, but I’ve sunk so much time into Fallout, Dishonored, Witcher, Half Life, Portal, Borderlands, Wolfenstein, Prey and all the Bioshocks that they could be second jobs. I recently completed two play-throughs of the Outerworlds, a worthy Fallout New Vegas clone, and now I’m going slowly through Control because I want to savor it.

(I think it all started with a game called Marathon, Bungie’s first game for the Mac, which combined first person shooter with exploration and storytelling that would eventually lead to Halo. The game is open source now as Aleph One and people have been using it to tell stories for more than 20 years.)

I’ve learned so much from gaming in several areas:

1. Milieu and Worldbuilding…

And how they communicate those things to the player, which translates as information flow to the reader in a story. Every game has a crucial first hour of gameplay, where they need to show the player how to interact with the game, and hook their emotions. The opening of Fallout 4 did an amazing job of this (but fell down in key areas later). Witcher 3 has an extended tutorial that serves fans familiar with the franchise while drawing in new players. It also establishes that this will be an adult story with adult characters. People make fun of the opening of Skyrim now that it’s become cliched, but I loved how it dropped me in the world, oriented itself with other Elder Scrolls games, and then a fracking dragon attacks you, setting up the stakes for the game. When I first killed a dragon, that was a satisfying moment set up from the beginning.

Bioshock is the best example of information flow that I’ve seen in any medium. It took me several tries to get the gameplay down, but I kept going back to the game because I wanted to explore Rapture. The hook at the beginning was that good. (Once the game play clicks though, it’s amazing, and as a player I felt just as hooked on plasmids as the mutated residents of Rapture.)

I loved the mechanic of character voices sharing their stories throughout the game, adding detail and richness, and that same mechanic is used in Prey, Dishonored and Control. (Each of these games know that players are drawn to these bits of lore, and often seeing a “lore delivery device” like a file folder in Control, triggers a fight. So you earn the lore, which creates an emotional hook. Beating the crap out of your character to give them a plot point is a great way of increasing reader engagement and getting those emotional responses Zach mentions.

Watching game design videos (Like an interview with Ken Levine where he talks about the mechanic of the Big Daddy/Little Sister in the player’s experience of the world) changed how I think about character/world building. The game play loop of fight/gather resource/explore is something that influences how I think about pacing.. and I think readers respond to the same things now.

2. Plot.

When I learned story, it was what Eric Witchey and Jerry Oltion explained as “A character in a situation with a problem, then try/fail loop in order to move to resolution that either solves the character’s problem or doesn’t and forces change, as they move forward into a new world.” This is the basic game play/resource loop of most major games now. Try/Fail is either the main quest or a side quest, and I often think of plot progression as moving through a game.

Games have rules that should make sense to the player. So do books.

3. Character.

The character must earn everything, just like a player. The story/world is pushing on the character just like the environment/arena forces the player into action. In the best games, hiding in a corner and sniping the boss is always the least desirable way to play. Doom 2016 does a great job of pushing the player into the arena and then reveling in destruction as they gain health only through kills. 

Player power evolves over time in satisfying ways that can also reveal the world/mileu. So do books.

Every game seems to have a point where the player becomes overpowered and the game might be fun for a while, but then my enjoyment drops off and it gets boring fast. I might keep playing for the story, but I usually stop. Same thing with characters. It’s hard to keep power-balance in check in a way that keeps people following the character forward, especially across a series. For me, this is where you build the team, get a ship, add new skill trees for each new level with different try/fail challenges, and then new plot points open up, creating opportunities for new stories.

4. Genre Language/Expectations.

At least in Science Fiction and Fantasy, I could argue that we’re moving into a time when more of our readers have shared experiences through gaming than reading. Games are mass media whether mainstream media wants to admit it or not, and our readers will click with the methods and archetypes used in games. I think many new readers are coming to space opera from the perspective of Borderlands, Mass Effect, Dead Space, and even Doom. I’m very aware of how these games treat commonalities like weapons, armor, vehicles/etc. Halo so overshadows most new Mil SF that it might as well all be fan fiction. You can’t write an AI without someone being disappointed if they aren’t Cortana.

My readers are split between retired folks who came up reading in the 60s/70s/80s (which I wish I had read more of) and younger readers who have played many of my favorite games. I’m always looking for ways to bridge those knowledge bases. 

5. Marketing.

Watching the latest trends in gaming, especially indies, is a good way to think about what you’re going to write in the future and what audiences you want to hit. Indie game developers have the same discover-ability challenges as authors, and try all kinds of unorthodox methods to gain traction. Every 10 cent Switch game on the Nintendo Store is a way to game their crappy search engine, since they’ll rise in the ranks and hang on at full price for a couple weeks after the sale. 

6. Escape.

I play games to experience a new world and to unwind. They’re entertainment. I think the best games evoke emotion, like Bioshock, Fallout, Prey and lately Control but they’re still entertainment for me.

I try to remember that about my books. It doesn’t mean I can’t play with interesting ideas or challenge my characters in unique ways, but I don’t lose sight of the fact that my readers are looking to be entertained. 

7. Gaming Art Books

are some of the cheapest science fiction art books you can find and they’re often amazing. I have a large collection. I flip through them when I’m looking for ideas or need help conceptualizing an area. Many have pages of assets from the game, like weapons, uniforms, characters, etc. The art book for Bioshock Infinite is also a great example of how a project evolves over time and ideas get dropped or changed, just like editing a book.

This article by Andrew Yoder about “The Door Problem of Combat Design” is about how to design an arena to encourage the player to get into the mix and not use the door to cut down enemies… For writers, I think it’s also an interesting way to think about how to challenge your characters, make interesting worlds for them to interact with, and in the end create a more rewarding experience for your reader.

To-Read: Unmasking the secret landlords buying up America

America’s cities are being bought up, bit by bit, by anonymous shell companies using piles of cash. Modest single-family homes, owned for generations by families, now are held by corporate vehicles with names that appear to be little more than jumbles of letters and punctuation –such as SC-TUSCA LLC, CNS1975 LLC – registered to law offices and post office boxes miles away. New glittering towers filled with owned but empty condos look down over our cities, as residents below struggle to find any available housing. 

All-cash transactions have come to account for a quarter of all residential real estate purchases, “totaling hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide,” the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – the financial crimes unit of the federal Treasury Department, also known as FinCEN– noted in a 2017 news release. Thanks to the Bank Secrecy Act, a 1970 anti-money-laundering law, the agency is able to learn who owns many of these properties. In high-cost cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, it’s flagged over 30% of cash purchases as suspicious transactions. But FinCEN also cites this bill to hide this information from the public, leaving the American people increasingly in the dark about who owns their cities.

1/2/20 Newsletter: Free Mil-SF from Scott Moon and Galactic Law coming fast and furious

This is from my mostly weekly SF Update. If you’d like to get these in your inbox, use the form here: www.jamesaaron.net/list/

Hey, how are you?

I hope the holidays have been treating you well.

//Updates//

Today I’m leading with updates, since I’ve got a new book coming out soon.

Galactic Law 1 is coming really soon on 1/12/20. This is the first book in the Galactic Law series, which will be coming fast and furious across the next two months.

The story follows Gage Walker, a new Sheriff’s Deputy on Taurus Station. Think Las Vegas on the edge of known space.


Galactic Law by James S. Aaron and JN Chaney

//Intro//

Lethal force is authorized.

In the wild space of the Deadlands, Taurus Station is where miners and tourists come to play, and the ravager gangs follow close behind. Out here, far from the civilized world, the Law has a name.

Gage Walker is the son of hard-nosed asteroid miners. Brash, rough, and crude, he’s one of the few deputies working the station.

Still a rookie, Walker is tasked with the security of a mining magnate’s daughter, an easy job that quickly takes a turn for the worst.

The ravager gangs want her, and it falls to Walker to find out why.

In a chase across Taurus Station, Deputy Walker must prove he’s fit to wear the badge and issue his own form of justice…one body at a time.

Experience this exciting beginning to a brand new series set in the Renegade Star universe. If you’re a fan of Judge Dredd, Renegade Star, or Borderlands, you’ll love this epic, scifi thriller.

////

This series draws on my own experience working with law enforcement, as well as a love of westerns like Young Guns, Tombstone, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and a strong dose of Star Trek, Buck Rogers and Star Wars.

I’ll send more info on the launch day.


//Free Mil-SF!//

Another cool thing I have to share is a free novel from Scott Moon. If you love mechs and mech battles, you should check out his Shorty series. The first book is currently free for a short time:

Shorty by Scott Moon

Shorty: A Mech Warrior’s Tale

by Scott Moon

Free for a short time

Bravery isn’t built. It’s forged.

On a planet plagued by perpetual war, where a mech is a prerequisite for survival, there is one simple rule: Be bigger than the other guy or get your ass kicked.

At just seventeen measly tons, Shorty doesn’t measure up. His enemies can level cities and punch holes through mountains. They can reshape the world on a whim. They wouldn’t be caught dead in an overgrown trashcan like Shorty.

But Shorty isn’t interested in the rule of size.

He knows heart isn’t measured in pounds of steel. Bravery isn’t found in the finest machined parts. Glory isn’t just for giants.

Shorty has a new rule, and he’s about to teach it to everyone.

Ass-kicking doesn’t have a size requirement.


Thanks for being a reader!

James

jamesaaron.net/books

facebook.com/james.aaron.author


Graffiti Yoda

(Artist Unknown)


Dave Malan

(Dave Malan)


'Kaanturs City' by Doug Chiang

‘Kaanturs City’ by Doug Chiang from the book Robota