that's what it's all about

4 Gigs of fast tunes
In a button-cute black tab.
My gym-time blurs past.

My Geeku above is dedicated to my latest gadget: the Creative Zen V Plus. It is so feature-rich that I think I know Goliath’s last thoughts as he took a tumble with a rock in his skull: “But he’s so small!”

It’s an indulgence, but I’ve already put it to good use (after spending far too much time choosing what songs to pack into it). Yesterday I downloaded Mark Kermode‘s weekly film review podcast. Later on I closed my eyes and listened as my MP3 players transported me to the BBC Five studio for half an hour. Kermode provides sharp, witty and intelligent reviews of the current movies on release in the UK, and I’d recommend it to film buffs everywhere. Thanks to my mate Brian for the heads-up about this podcast.

I’m only just beginning to listen to podcasts. Not because I wasn’t aware of them (I’ve participated in a few), but because the dial-up mentality is hard to shake. Even at this point I have to remind myself that a burly download will not hold my bandwidth hostage for hours and force the web browser and email to sit in clamped-teeth frustration for its release..

This leads me into a subject I’ve ruminated upon for some time, which is the importance for writers to keep abreast with current technology. I know a lot of writers at this stage, both in Ireland and abroad. Often, during the course of our conversations I realise that many are clueless when it comes to software, updates, web sites, and technology. It always surprises me, and it shouldn’t. As a geek who fraternises with other geeks I forget that we are in the minority.

Our lives are changing rapidly due to advances in technology. Google and YouTube have entered the common parlance. Mobile phones are smarter than HAL 9000, and the more bleeding edge ones exhibit the same crankiness. Setting up a DVD recorder can require a new level of intuition due to the obtuse nature of some instruction manuals.

Yet, you don’t need a degree in science to keep up with this. It requires an open mind, an interest in the world around you, and patience.

For instance–yanking this discussion back to writing–I had to update my version of Final Draft (FD) recently. This was a task I’d been avoiding because 1) I was on dial-up, and 2) I’ve dealt with bad software upgrades in the past and once a program is working I’d prefer not to tempt fate and break it with a rotten patch.

There is a much-discussed bug in FD 7.0 that means when you try to save a FD file as a .pdf it creates a file of humongous proportions. I discovered the problem after I purchased FD 7.0 a couple of years ago–when I first attempted to create a .pdf file, in fact. I did an internet search on the bug, and discovered there was a patch available. Yet, there was a stumbling block: a hefty download, and a series of quirky steps that required activation and deactivation of software that even I didn’t want to attempt.

Luckily, I have the ability to print any file at home as a .pdf and I was able to ignore the problem. The issue came up again recently in a discussion of Final Draft among writers. I experienced a syndrome I’ve seen in a lot of people when I try to explain something technical to them: several of them stopped listening after hitting the first word they didn’t understand. In this case I think it was “patch”.

I don’t say this to be funny. I used to support software and hardware, and I understand how mysterious and scary these terms are to people who don’t want to be bothered about technology. They just want their devices to work and get very frustrated when they don’t. My background is in the Arts, not Science. The only difference is that I have an interest and I’m willing to learn.

So, I danced the Final Draft Hokey-Cokey, which involved a 30MB zipped file download, finding my customer number, deactivating my FD software, uninstalling it, re-installing the patched version, and activating it. Much to my delight it worked flawlessly. I did test the procedure on my desktop first, before I whirled through the steps again with my laptop version.

This is just a simple example of the kind of task that faces most writers–most IT users–every day. I am asked technical questions on a regular basis by friends because I’m perceived as being au fait with this kind of thing. Perhaps I have an inclination towards the field, but the information doesn’t magically arrive in my head. I have to research, read, and experiment. It’s a sacrifice of time, but one that is worth the compensation.

The only other solution is to shun technology and use pen and paper. Even typewriters require maintenance.

The easiest thing to do is to adjust your attitude towards technology and realise that it isn’t arcane jargon-filled wizardy. With a bit of effort it is comprehensible.

Anyone can do it if I can.

Now, what the hell is wrong with my wireless keyboard…?