Category Archives: Observations

General observations about people, places, life, the Universe and many things

One of the problems with writing….

One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.

When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.

Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.

For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.

The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.

Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.

Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.

Aids to characterisation

Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?

Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.

It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.

There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.

A paucity of inspiration

I can’t do it. I’m stuck. I’ve edited and re edited. Proofed and corrected, but as for new output, I’m grinding around in a circle like a tank with one track. Endlessly covering the same small circle. Under inspired.

Everything has ground to a halt. Short stories, screenplays, novels, everything. Nothing is working: the ‘what if’ game, the get on with other things gambit, nothing. Fortunately I’ve been here before, and know that if I kind of take a sneaky sidestep, and quit battering my head against a metaphorical brick wall, I’ll see a way around or through. Sooner or later. Just take a time out, use my eyes, peoplewatch, walk, talk, do the Zen thing and the answers should present themselves. I hope.

So many profiles, so little time

Being a one man band has its downside. In short, self promotion. In between day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking and trying to do some research, I have to fit in updating all the profiles I’ve begun. There’s Authors Den (Hi guys), Goodreads (Profile needs completing) to mention but two of my multiple memberships. Never mind LinkedIn, and I can’t remember the last time I logged on to FaceBook properly.

Yesterday I spent three and a half working hours alone on my Authors Den profile (Including blog post) before four hours travelling to and talking to boat brokers and walking around various marinas looking at everything from an oversized dinghy to a minor gin palace as a live aboard, although the cost of satellite Internet is rather off-putting. Putting in over two hours editing the rough draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’ while cooking ribs to have cold for supper at work then working the graveyard shift at day job. Today I hope to get a few more hours at the keyboard before disappearing from just after four until after midnight.

That makes yesterdays total; five hours sleep; three and a half hours on Authors Den; just under nine hours including commute to and from day (more like night) job for paid work; an hour and three quarters in the kitchen; two hours writing; three and a half hours looking at boats; about an hour talking about boats and travel with Angie; half an hour reading one of my favourite books; an hour answering email, and I think I actually managed what our cousins down south call a couple of ‘comfort breaks’ during the day. I also managed a few minutes studying for an exam, but I’m not sure where I managed to fit that in. The bookmark has moved forward a chapter, so I must have done. What is that big expensive screen thing in the living room we never switch on?

Angie has noticed how tired I look, so I’m driving her down to Sidney and Victoria on Friday to visit yet another bunch of Marinas. More boats. More houses. More research. More job hunting.

I’d really like to be more active on these profiles, upping my visibility as an Independent; but then there wouldn’t be time for day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking, making time for my wife and trying to do some research.

Update: I forgot my dog. He needs me too. Walkies, food, time to sit at his master’s feet. There’s another hour a day.

Is online activity declining?

This is purely anecdotal I know, but since the Snowden / NSA scandal broke, with all the revelations about surveillance, I’ve noticed a significant decline in online activity. Not this site, because it’s always been pretty low activity. Really, what is less interesting than a self publishing writer in a niche market talking about writing and self publishing in a niche market? On various forums I read, once active posters seem to have dropped off the web, and I’m wondering if this is symptomatic of an overall decline which probably impacts on online sales. I mean for everyone.

I know that Internet use ebbs and flows like the tide, but one time enthusiastic users seem to be less enthusiastic than usual right now. This is nothing I can pin down, and seeing as it’s a developing situation there are few real resources. shows that Google search use basically fell off a cliff in early June after six months of increase. Facebook is 11% down in search activity. Yahoo also suffered a sharp decline in June. Bing a small increase. This could of course be due to the holidays, as the majority of Internet use is driven by a younger audience, and will no doubt be back up in September when school restarts. On the other hand I find myself concerned that we’re seeing the start of an ‘Internet recession’. An overall decline in Internet use as people drop ‘off grid’ in an attempt to avoid everything they say and do being logged and recorded.

Like I say, there are few reliable sources of immediate information, but I liken it to watching a change in the clouds a day before a storm rolls in. The harbingers are there. Once hyperactive users have gone silent. Companies are talking about taking their online business ‘offshore’ and even the antivirus company I use is doing deals on VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections. I’m halfway inclined to configure my router to anonymise web access like in this tutorial, but it’s such a pain to reconfig if something untoward happens at the other end (Loss of proxy, things like that).

Aug 2013 012For those of us who have bet the farm on a ‘web only’ eBook strategy, this apparent decline does not bode well.

Apropos of nothing; during a rainstorm over Dodd Narrows yesterday evening around 7:30pm, I was privileged to witness exactly what is at the end of the rainbow. On a full arc double bow.

Original image. No photoshop. This is what actually lies at the end of the rainbow.

I keep on hearing this….

Browsing through varying LinkedIn forums, I keep on coming across sweeping broad brushstroke statements to the effect that most self published works are poorly formatted and written rubbish. If this truly is the case, then why bother stating the obvious? Of course badly written, scrappy looking work won’t sell. But what is also true is that even brilliantly written, spectacularly perfect work may not sell either because it is not what the market wants right now, and as is repeatedly demonstrated, not even the ‘professionals’ get it right. Remaindered book shops being the singular living proof.

Yet, if we are to believe what some say, to self publish is to be forever damned by the traditionalists. Had the temerity to put a piece of work in the public domain without their consent? Only to be denied access to wider bookshop markets because the distributors won’t list a work with less than so many thousand pre printed stock available? Even then, will mainstream bookstore buyers touch self published works? Experience says no. Unless someone knows something I don’t, and I’d love to hear of a low cost entry level way into this section of the market. Apart from the eBook route.

So, what to do? Do I, as one who chooses to eschew the traditional publishing route of Agent and Publisher repeat what I did for so many years, write, submit, then wait, and wait, and wait, only to be handed a non specific “Sorry, no.” after three (or even on one particular occasion, six) months? Or simply go for it full thrust, transition, and try to blow a hole through the blockade like some of my characters repeatedly do in ‘Falling’ and ‘Darkness’? Should I ‘write for the market’ like we are all exhorted to do by creative writing classes and tutors? Okay, say I, but who defines what the market actually wants? What is ‘The Market’? I don’t know. The literary marketplace is diversifying so rapidly, I don’t think anyone else really knows, either.

‘Writing for a market’ might be the ‘safe’ option, but I’ve never really cared much for ‘safe’. If I did, I’d never have slung a leg over the saddle of a horse or motorcycle. Even after repeated falls and many bruises. Or handled bad tempered animals with teeth bigger and more dangerous than a large diameter circular rip saw. Or any of the other dangerous pursuits that get my heart pounding. So I write what I want. Not what others would have me write.

On the whole I think those who demonise independent self publishers do both themselves and their employers / companies a great disservice. Whenever I hear someone vouchsafing thus, it makes me extremely reluctant to deal with their company. To me they represent an elitist world view, rather like the voices who simply can’t bring themselves to believe that an English market town grammar school boy could become the most celebrated playwright in the history of the English language. Shock horror! The man never even went to University! How dare he! Yet the name of William Shakespeare echoes across time, even four hundred years on. One small town boy made good.

But then, we all have to start somewhere, be our journey in this life short and spectacular or slow and barely noticed. The only sin is not to try. Damn the dissenting voices.

On the move

No word from the Kobo people on the account settings, so the Kobo editions of ‘Sky’, ‘Falling’, and The Calvin series first offering ‘Head of the beast’ will have to wait until the jet lag fades.  For the next 24 hours plus I’m living in alloy tubes and airports, navigating the indignities of airport security, and trying not to laugh as Angie’s hip implants set off the scanners.  Then we’re more or less on the road for three weeks.  Of course I’ll hunker down where I can to put a few words to storyline and keep a weather eye on my email.

Had a good nights sleep last night, so I’m fresh and rested.  Maybe the jet lag won’t bite so hard this time round.

The eBook version of ‘Head of the Beast’ needs a reformat, so that will keep me out of mischief.  Just font and indent changes.  A few italics need inserting, but on the whole, the story still sends chills down my cynical back.  I may even put some more work in on ‘A Falling of Angels’.  Although ‘Darkness’, the third and final volume of the ‘Stars’ series needs the most attention.

Notepad, laptop, travel documents, money and other essentials are ready.  We’re off.  We’ll see what inspiration hits while we’re on the road.

The importance of humour as a storytelling tool

Proof reading ‘Falling’ I’ve noticed how often I use a comic sequence to get a story point across. For example, in the second half, juxtaposed against the tragedy of involuntary slave workers, there is a thwarted DEA raid when a heavily armed task force invades foreign territory, only to find themselves out thought and out gunned. Mostly by my renegade Mayor and ex drug lord character William J Colby. Mostly it comes from the one liners Bill delivers as part of his address, and the bathos of a rural Police Sergeant arresting a bunch of enforcement agents who are clearly out of their jurisdiction with the line; “Hey. Can you hear me at the back?”. I love writing Bill, as he’s so disreputable and ruthless when faced by the evil embodied by villains such as Eldridge Farrow, another who was a lot of fun to write. In the words of George Bernard Shaw’s creation, Henry Higgins, they are both “So delightfully low.”

There’s also a lot of what I like to call ‘Blue collar banter’ between minor characters which moves the story along and wraps up a section on an uptick, or to soften the edge of an anticlimax. Adding bulk to otherwise two dimensional characters. Such as a line from a ground crew member known simply as ‘Chesney’ arguing with his friend Leroy Colby, which begins with an exasperated Leroy urging his friend and colleague to stop wisecracking and simply get on with it. “You know Chesney, sometimes with you.” To which Chesney responds; “I know, I know. Sometimes the fun never starts.” Well I liked it.

A gag is a great way of highlighting a point, or rounding out a character in a crisis situation. The kind of everyday crosstalk everyone engages in to make a dull, involved, or emotionally intense job a little bit less of a struggle. To go even further; laughter is one of life’s essentials. A day without a genuine shared smile is a day wasted. The life autistic.

All right. I’m biased. I’ll put my hands up to this one, having done a few stand up gigs and finding I didn’t have the nerve or comic talent to succeed, I still strongly believe in the power of humour. Especially as a contrast to tragedy, a tool of protest or getting a complex argument across in a sound bite. This has been an understood dramatic principle since before the days of Plautus.

Some of my favourite TV shows have strong tragi-comedic elements with a great deal of comic interplay between characters. Take ‘House MD’ as a classic example. As a character, House is a high functioning drug addict who tortures his staff, routinely manipulates and insults friends and colleagues, who without his humour would be an opinionated ass whose work is highly suspect. He is the loosest of cannons. Yet his primary redeeming qualities are his wit, directness, and incorrigible humour when dealing with difficult or emotionally charged situations. Without these qualities, the show would consist of dull geeky medico-speak punctuated by melodrama. Gold without the glitter. Add appropriate (And even some ‘inappropriate) humour, and the show sparkles.

Well, that’s my take on it. For the few (One? None? Who cares?) who will bother to read this far. From the black comedy of Hansel and Gretel’s attempt at Haute Cuisine, through Shakespeare’s comedies (And tragedies, there are even a few chuckles in Henry V, Richard III and Romeo and Juliet) and Aesop’s Fables to modern day comic geniuses like Terry Pratchett and P J O’Rourke. Humour is the essential counterpoint to all the scary stories others love to tell. Sometimes I think as a tool of domination. Maybe one of the “Hah! You’re scared-I’m not, so I’m better than you.” mind games some like to play.

Appropriately targeted humour by contrast provides an alleviation against the force of crushing conformity. Providing joyous relief from feeling “So it’s not just me, then.” A shared vindication. A tool for conflict resolution. In fact next to air, food and shelter, I would argue that it is the fourth most critical requirement of survival and being human, and a good story should always contain at least a little.

Update: An ability to laugh at your own shortcomings is also very useful when dealing with frustrating glitches in eBook distribution. ‘Sky’ needs one tiny update before they will accept for wider distribution. Header 1 on first line.

Pray for me. I need all the help I can get.

New stuff and up and coming

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it seems is my promised output. ‘Falling’ is in final check and format phase. The eBook will slip, probably unnoticed, onto the market within the next couple of weeks while I’m in the UK. Link will be on the ‘published works’ page. ‘Darkness’ is a long way off completion.

A while back I said I was working on a collection of short supernatural and science fiction stories, and still am. My issue here is that I have a problem; too much inspiration, too many distractions. No sooner have I set my foot on one narrative path, than another crops up. And another. And another. My ‘recent documents’ tab fills up regularly with titles like ‘Blink’, ‘Quantum stumbling’, and ‘Infection’. Some of which belong in the Stars timeline, others in the Cerberus, and a whole bunch of others in no category whatsoever, they’re just stories inspired by random conversations or observations in day to day life. Some are almost finished, others need a rewrite, but there’s only so many hours in the day. Editing and checking of the main work is dull and time consuming, but it must be done repeatedly.

On the ‘Published Works’ page, I’ve listed what’s available, and what is up and coming with status and availability. No idea if anyone outside of my test readers will like them, but there they will be. Shortly. Maybe. I hope.

Like I’ve said, I’m frantically flinging narrative mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. My name is Martyn Kinsella-Jones; I’m a workaholic and proud of it.

One hundred and fifty six thousand words

156,000 words. I have just edited and spellchecked one hundred and fifty six thousand words. That’s rewriting, tweaking, removing errant apostrophes, changing the odd metaphor, scubble handtweek and burble. Gods I’m tired.

It didn’t help that some inconsiderate neighbour went out last night having left their stereo on until five thirty this morning. Thump, thump bloody thump, all flaming night. All this and a Sunday shift. Did I say I was tired? Fortunately I’m not working tomorrow, which is Victoria Day here in BC thank the Lord. I may spend most of it asleep. My eyes feel like they’re about to roll out of their sockets. I did say that I was tired, didn’t I? Something of that ilk. Even the dog is giving me funny looks.

I’m formatting this many words for an eBook release. All a hundred and bloody fifty six flaming thousand of them. Spellcheck, spellcheck and re-read again. Get my word spanner on the odd sentence and tighten it up. Grease a metaphor, polish a simile and take a very large hammer to any conceits. Just to make sure they stay put.

It’s another self publish, hence the grunt work. I want this up and in the marketplace before I trot off back to jolly old Blighty in June. Three weeks of playing catch up with the odd old mate, far flung family and a side trip to Southern Ireland. We’re also going to do a stopover in Amsterdam. Go do things like the Rijkmuseum, a day trip to The Hague before heading back to yet more jet lag.

Now I’m going to walk away from the keyboard to make friends with a bottle of vodka. I’ve earned it.

Orca mother and calf sighted in Dodd Narrows

There’s always a bit of a buzz in Cedar when the Orcas come through.  About a quarter past five this afternoon, I was taking a time out in the kitchen watching Time Team re-runs when a black triangular shape popped out of the sea about a quarter mile away.  Took a second glance, and there it was again.  A third time and a Killer Whale breached and blew, just south of a line between home and the Mudge- Link Island portage.

Managed to get my Skymaster binoculars on the shape as it came up again, and saw what looked like an Orca Mother and calf heading south, side by side down towards the channel between Link and Round Island. Saw one of our friends and neighbours, David Hill-Turner walking his dog, and yelled out the news. He told neighbour John, who keeps note of these things, but in the two minutes it took from first sighting to the pair disappearing southwards behind Round Island, the Orcas had moved on. Spent another half hour scanning what I could see of the water, but could see nothing further of the pair. At least from my vantage point. They’ll probably be passing Yellowpoint or the Trincomalee channel by now.

The joy of cornering #WritersBlock

While the muse of Science Fiction has temporarily deserted me, I thought I’d write about something dear to my heart; driving. Car or motorcycle, doesn’t matter, the principles and sensations are the same. I’m a petrolhead at heart who simply enjoys the sensations afforded by motorised transport. Specifically the art of the corner.

Now this might sound odd to the uninitiated, but there is an art to driving around a corner that is seemingly unlearned by many drivers. They lack the ability or motivation to do it properly, they wander, swerve and clip. Lines are taken too fast, too narrow or too timorously. They never seek the optimum, explore the limits or push the envelope.

Yet but cornering’s simple isn’t it? Decelerate to apex, steer into the curve, then hammer down and out? Steer outside to centre, or centre to kerb, depending upon whether you’re covering a right or left hander. Easy. Yet each corner is different, with a pitch and camber, and even a character all of its own which alters throughout the day. Depending upon weather, angle of sunlight, spilled material and even roadkill. At best cornering’s an art form; one of fine balance and perfect judgement. Man and machine poised on the razors edge of a disaster curve. No tyre squeal, no flashy and wasteful Clarksonian tyre smoking power slides, just the singular pleasure of a simple task performed to a finesse. Forever seeking the optimum.

What I’m not going to do in this little piece is witter on about the technical process of making a vehicle change direction of travel along a stretch of road. There’s always the temptation to wax lyrical about ceramic brakes, of counter steering and tyre compounds, then miss the point entirely.

If anyone reads my bio or Facebook timeline, they’ll see pictures of me astride a couple of motorcycles, and in each image there is a big fat boyish grin on my face. I am and always will be a biker at heart. My soul, if that is what drives me, has two wheels. What they won’t see is my four wheeled vehicle history, which is not as salubrious. Overall I’ve driven many vehicles with a wheel at each corner and a faulty nut behind the steering wheel, from Morris 1000’s and Reliant Regals and Robins, to high end SUV’s and medium goods vehicles. I’ve owned Volkswagens, Rovers, Fords and even a Saab Turbo 900 for my sins. During a spell as a delivery driver in the mid 1990’s I even got to shuttle almost Ford and Vauxhalls entire UK range of saloons. Stick shift, automatic, whatever. I’ve driven Mercedes and Ford vans throughout fourteen, and even seventeen and a half hour working days, then gone on to do evening classes three nights a week. During the Eighties and nineties I regularly topped over fifty thousand miles a year. Highways, Motorways, Autobahns and side roads. Those weren’t the days. Yet to me the actual driving didn’t feel like work.

Each vehicle I’ve driven had their own little foibles, and some I really enjoyed, others detested, but all were tried and pitched into corners for the simple joy of it. Motorcycle, truck or car it didn’t matter. The dynamic sensations were everything. The deceleration, visual seeking of precise line and curve, a little sidewards G at the apex, then a mild sensation of drift and roll as I almost pushed my vehicle into the bend before powering smoothly out. All have shown me the pale edge of driving Nirvana. From an exhilarating sunny sidestand scraper up Fish Hill on the Evesham to Stratford road on my old Triumph 900, to a heart stopping close encounter with a late night Moose on the Ontario Trans Canada driving a Ford Windstar van. Corners have provided drama, adventure, and an adrenalin rush to lighten the dull samey greyness of getting from A to B.

So, what’s the secret of the corner? Well actually there isn’t one. It isn’t rocket science, dragon magic or anything remotely difficult. It’s like any simple task, not easy for the initiate or novice, but one that can be readily mastered. Although not as simple as turning the steering wheel, or leaning into it, cornering is an art anyone can become competent in. All it requires is a little thought and practice.

The future state of publishing

As a self-publisher, I’m always on the lookout for ways to break the glass ceiling. Every self published author knows what this is; news outlets who won’t even think of reviewing a book published by an author, but will give acres of room to specialist works no-one but a handful could be interested in. Book distributors who need all sorts of incentives just to mention a self published work in their catalogue. The sixty forty split which makes it difficult for an author to make any money, even if they are lucky to break into the bookstores.

For a small time self publisher, the means of getting ‘out there’ into the larger marketplace are limited and time consuming. Which is what publishers do. They take the hard graft of getting noticed and into bookstores, and make it look easy because they have established and maintained media contacts and procedures which flow from manuscript to customer. They also get to say what style gets into the marketplace. Which accounts for some authors, in frustration, sending in the barely disguised first three chapters of a classic novel, only to find that it too gets rejected with barely a syllable being read. The castle drawbridge is up, portcullis down, and you peasants can just jolly well stay in your scruffy little self publishing hovels, what? Your betters have spoken.

In some ways the current situation reminds me of the old trades union ‘closed shop’ with all its negotiated restrictive practices. It’s ossified, semi-paralysed, looking for the next big thing, but hardly daring the radical move of expanding its catalogue. There’s always a sense that it’s not what you know, it’s whom.

For me, my frustrations reached boiling point some years ago when I spent weeks on a 1500 word short-short, revising and rewriting because the magazine in question had done “A very nice picture.” Afterwards; having ‘done the sums’ as they say, I worked out that I’d been working for something like five English pence an hour. Hardly a fortune. I’d also submitted several finished manuscripts and when publishers deigned to reply, all I got was one, repeat one, form letter from someone whose job it was to periodically clear the company slush pile of unread manuscripts. The rest I never heard a whisper from. So when I first heard of online self publishing, I thought “Great!” and like so many others piled in. So far the experience has been like building a boat, getting it launched, beating the tides and making it out to sea, then looking out at the big cruise liners disappearing over the horizon and thinking “Now what?” The ocean is open, deep and vast, there are continents to conquer on the other side, but not being able to keep up with the big boys leaves you feeling somewhat adrift.

At the moment, self publishing is an alphabet with letters missing. Like a language without the right words. Conceptually bereft. I suppose like the man in the small boat I’d better get paddling. Doesn’t matter where. Just pick a direction and go for it.

Reasons not to like Apple

Last weekend I agreed that yes, we should have some extra entertainment in the house. I won’t pay for cable TV, as so much television is simply not worth the subscription. So we went to Future shop and bought an Apple TV. We asked about not installing the dreaded iTunes on our business PC’s and were informed that no, we wouldn’t have to do that, we could set up the Apple TV over the phone. Fine said I, and stumped up the cash.

Minor issues with the Apple TV box not liking the first HDMI cable it was plugged in with, but once I’d swapped it for a non-ethernet HDMI cable, no problem. We switched on the TV, reading the instructions, following the steps and the Apple box fired up nicely. The screensaver looked very nice, and we were looking forward to buying and viewing premium content from the iTunes store. All well and good.

Today Angie asked me to get her an account set up to buy some movies. Apple ID created, great. The Apple TV box itself working, wonderful. Went to buy some content and……..ah. Despite having a verified Apple ID, credit card registered with Apple and everything else, we were unable to purchase a movie or TV series. After two and a half frustrating hours I gave up and called Apple support. After ten minutes the operator told me that I had to have iTunes loaded on my PC to register and connect via the iTunes store. There were no workarounds, no buy by phone, it was iTunes or nothing.

I’ll confess a prejudice here; I don’t like having Apple software on Windows machines, and won’t have it anywhere near a business machine for one simple reason, it’s bloatware. I’ve had Apple software like Safari and iTunes on PC’s before, without registering for the iTunes store. These have been the source of many system slowdowns and even the occasional crash. I’ve also spent too much time rootling around in registries getting rid of all the little surprise packages left behind by iTunes to trip up the unwary. Ergo, that application is forbidden on any system I administer. To me it is a timewaster. An unnecessary complication. If you can’t do it via web browser SSL, there’s something amiss. Amazon and eBay manage nicely, so why not Apple?

So today I have wasted over three working hours on a product that won’t let me use it. Tomorrow I will waste an hour and a half getting the guy at the store to help me verify my Apple store ID, but there is no way on Gods green Earth that I am allowing iTunes on a business PC. It may be just me, but thinking about it there’s also something rather posey about Apple Macs and sometimes their owners that just put me off. Something to do with the implied exclusivity of Apple products I don’t much care for. It’s a computer, not a religion for goodness sake. Full blown Apple Macs are great for DTP, animation and a whole bunch of other things, but overall I feel they’re rather over priced for what they are.

Funny thing; I was actually contemplating buying a Mac until this morning. Now I won’t. Not ever. Because of over four working hours lost unnecessarily. Four hours wasted, all because I couldn’t verify an iTunes store ID without clogging up my system with iTunes.