When To Quit Reading A Book

At what point when you’re reading a book and not enjoying it do you call it quits?

When I was younger, I never quit books. Even if I despised them, I kept reading and stuck it through to the bitter end. This was pre-Goodreads days, so I didn’t even get to do any cathartic venting online when I didn’t like something.

After I started working and had limited time to read, I started being more picky about what I read through to the end. Plus, I enjoyed the freedom of not being in school anymore. In school, I had to read a lot of books, many of which I didn’t like. But they were required for class, so not reading them wasn’t really an option. (Unless I wanted a bad grade, which obviously I didn’t.)

Suddenly, after I started working, I realized there were a lot of books I just didn’t want to read. Moreover, I realized it wasn’t a bad thing that I didn’t want to read them. If I started something and just couldn’t get into it, I would dump it.

I still do this. My local library has a fantastic ebook collection and I’ve started many books that I didn’t end up finishing. It’s actually liberating because it means I have more time to read what I want. This doesn’t mean that I don’t force myself to read difficult books. I’m slowly working my way through Jane Austen’s works. I think they’re difficult reads, but I still enjoy reading them.

At least the cover is cool?

No, the type of books I’m talking about quitting are ones like Red Queen. Years ago, everyone was talking about this book. I decided to read it last year—only to put it down in disgust after a few chapters. I just couldn’t get into it. I figured it wasn’t for me.

Earlier this year, one of my coworkers said her sister recommended it to her. My coworker hasn’t read it, but said her sister loved it. I decided to try it again. I made it a bit further than last time, but I still didn’t get very far.

Last week, I saw that the library had the audiobook version of Red Queen available. I’ve been somewhat getting into audiobooks lately, so I thought I’d give this book yet another try. Third time’s the charm, right?

You’ve got to give me some credit: I made it over halfway through this time. I still ended up abandoning this book, though. I just don’t care for it. I think the plot is dumb and the characters are like cardboard. I know it sold well, so obviously I’m missing something here. I guess it’s just not my kind of book. And that’s okay because I will spend time reading books that are my kind of books.

When do you quit reading a book if you don’t like it? Have you read Red Queen? If you have and you liked it, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. When I look at good reviews of it online, I feel like everyone who wrote a good review read a different book than the one I did!

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Fly On The Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’

A Dreamliner on its first flight back in 2009. Source.

I remember the first time I heard of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “Did you hear they’re making a new plane?” my mom said to me. “It’s made out of plastic.” At the time, I thought the idea was absurd and I wondered if my mom had either misread the article or if the article was inaccurate. Surely, I thought to myself, no one would actually make a plane out of plastic, right?

Well, I was wrong. The plane is indeed made out of plastic. Or, to be more precise, it’s made out of “composite materials,” which, in this case, means a carbon fiber reinforced polymer. To be exact, it’s the first plane to have a composite fuselage, composite wings, and composites in most of its airframe components. All this composite material makes it a lot lighter than it would be if it were made out of metal like a normal plane, which means that it’s more fuel efficient.

No doubt there are some people who go into paroxysms of joy at that last sentence. Fuel efficient! How delightful! Believe me, I’m all about saving money on fuel—one of the many reasons I refuse to drive a massive car is I don’t want to have to pay to fuel it up all the time—but there’s got to be a limit to this fuel efficiency obsession. In the case of the Boeing 787, it seems they’ve sacrificed safety at the expense of fuel efficiency. How, you may ask? Read on for my decidedly non-aerospace engineer opinion. In no particular order, I present you both actual and potential problems associated with this jet.
Continue reading Friends Don’t Let Friends Fly On The Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’

Apple & Me, Part 2: Cracks In The Foundation

Note: This post is a continuation of a story I started to tell in an earlier post, so if you haven’t read the earlier one yet, you might want to do that, as this probably won’t make much sense without it!

By the time the trackpad on my first Mac broke, I was deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem and loving every minute of it. I replaced my first iPhone with the iPhone 3GS, which I used for the next four years. (I actually still have that phone. It’s docked to an iHome and it plays music to wake me up every morning.) I didn’t have an iPad yet, but I’d started to secretly want one.

When I took my laptop with the broken trackpad to the Apple Store the day after it broke—this was 2010, dear readers, which meant it was easy to get a next-day appointment with Apple—they gave me bad news. Because the computer was out of warranty, it would be over $200 to fix the trackpad. I left with the trackpad still broken and started using a USB mouse.

My faithful old Mac

A few months later, just in time for the new semester, I got a brand-new shiny Mac laptop. It was a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 500 GB hard drive, 8 GB RAM, and a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. It also had plenty of ports: USB, Ethernet, FireWire, and an SD card slot. It even had a CD/DVD drive, which I used many times over the years. It was a nearly perfect laptop—its only flaw was the glossy screen. Sometime between the time I bought my first Mac and this second Mac, Apple had stopped making matte screens. In typical fashion, the company decided it knew better than we customers did about what we needed on our computers. Keep in mind glossy screens are by no means an industry standard, since the computer I use for work has a lovely matte screen that I rather like. Therefore, I think it’s rather silly that Apple doesn’t sell matte screens at all. But I digress.

The new laptop came with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard installed. I didn’t know it at the time, but Snow Leopard was to be the last truly great (and stable!) version of Mac OS X. Since 10.7 Lion, it’s been downhill ever since. (Seriously, don’t get me started on the monstrosity known as “macOS Sierra.” Just don’t.)

Right away, as soon as I opened the box that the new laptop came in, I noticed the computer didn’t come with a bunch of random free accessories like the first Mac I had. I didn’t get a nice black cleaning cloth, a remote, or a DVI to video adapter. Just like the matte screen, these had somehow vanished in the intervening four years since I bought my first Mac. Unlike the matte screen, they were still available—for a price. Luckily, I already had them from buying my first Mac, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

I still have that Mac I bought in 2010. That’s how I was able to precisely give the specs above. In fact, I’m typing this very blog post on it. It’s still my main computer and even though I’ve been forced to upgrade the operating system a few times, I still love this computer.

It was joined by a third Apple device in 2013: a 4th-generation iPad I got in graduate school. I still have that iPad, too, and it’s been very helpful with my Russian studies since I’ve had it. I got a new iPhone shortly after the iPad, which means I’ve owned a total of three iPhones.

Over the years, as I acquired my devices and Apple sold more and more iPhones, I slowly began to feel less passionate about Apple. I certainly didn’t love the company anymore. I liked it. A mild to somewhat enthusiastic liking was all I could muster up. Despite its faults, I reasoned, the products and software were still better than Windows or Android. At least I didn’t have to pay for expensive antivirus software—and then still get viruses anyway. That’s what made me stick with Apple products, despite a growing list of complaints.

My complaints mostly centered on the operating systems, both mobile and desktop/laptop. Once Apple made them free (yes, my dear friends, you used to have to pay for the operating system on your Mac computer!), the quality went downhill—big time. You know that saying You only get what you pay for? Never was it so appropriate than in this situation. Honestly, I’d rather pay $30 for an operating system (this was how much an upgrade to 10.6 Snow Leopard cost when it came out) and get something with a minimum amount of bugs than get it for free and feel like an unpaid beta tester due to the bugginess. That’s basically what people who use Apple products are nowadays: Tim Cook’s unpaid beta testers. Based on the quality of the software I see coming out of Apple, the company must have fired their entire quality control department between 2010 and now.

And those are just my complaints with the operating system for Apple’s computers. The mobile operating system, iOS, is exponentially worse. I’ve disliked it for a while now, mainly because Apple keeps it locked down under such tight control that you can’t do anything with it. If I want to delete the caches for applications on my laptop, that’s quite easy to do. If I want to do that on the iPhone or iPad, I either have to delete the app and reinstall it (if I’m lucky and it’s something I downloaded from the App Store) or I have to reset the entire device to factory settings. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it absurd? There is no way to access a cache file or a preferences file for a default iOS app such as Weather. (Okay, there might be if you jailbreak. But jailbreaking is a big hassle and I’ve never done it. As far as I know, you can access such files on Android without having to go in a root the device! Though if I am mistaken on this, please correct me.) It also seems like there are major bugs whenever a major version of iOS is released. That happens way, way too often, if you ask me. There shouldn’t be that many bugs in a product released that isn’t a beta version.

It wasn’t until recently, though, when I researched the newest Mac laptops, iPhones, and iPads that I came to a very surprising conclusion, one that will shock everyone who knows me personally: I am not going to buy Apple products anymore. Yes, I know that means returning to the warm, virus-laden fold that is Microsoft Windows. But this is my decision, and I came to it due to three reasons: the latest version of iOS, the latest version of Mac OS X (excuse me, it’s macOS now—gag), and the new Mac laptops Apple is currently selling.

Stay tuned to the next post for more…

Apple & Me, Part 1: Love At First Sight

The first computer I ever owned was a Dell laptop. It was big, fat, and clunky—but I loved it.

It was kind of a horrible computer. It had a tiny hard drive and not even 1 GB of RAM. It ran Windows XP. The trackpad didn’t always work right and the display quality was terrible. But it was a decent price. My parents bought it for me for school and I thought it was the greatest thing ever.

Pretty much everyone in my year at school had the same laptop, with the exception of a classmate named Brittany. I sat by Brittany in English class, which allowed me ample time to admire her gorgeous PowerBook G4. After I’d spent a lot of time admiring her computer, mine didn’t seem so great.

It was a thing of beauty, that PowerBook. The casing was a beautiful aluminum. It had a matte display and a smooth trackpad with a single fat button to click. It won’t surprise you when I say that when offered a computer upgrade, I asked for a Mac.

My first Mac. Isn't it gorgeous?
My first Mac. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I was lucky. My parents bought me my first Mac shortly after Apple began offering Intel processors in their computers. I had a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 200 GB hard drive and 1 GB of RAM. It had lovely matte display—something Apple doesn’t offer anymore, but more on this later. Not only did it look nice, but it ran the most excellent operating system I’d ever used up to that point: Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger.

It wasn’t a perfect computer, looking back. In the time I had it, I experienced kernel panics every so often. A kernel panic is the Mac equivalent of the “blue screen of death” on Windows. According to research I’ve done since, this probably meant the computer was underpowered, i.e. it didn’t have enough RAM and/or a good enough processor.

The computer also went through batteries like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. The batteries kept going bad—but back then, Apple’s warranty plan actually would cover the cost of a new one. The display started buzzing like a fluorescent light burning out. The warranty plan helped with this, too, thank goodness. By the time said warranty plan expired after three years, I’d gone through four batteries and two screen repairs.

The first iPhone. It may look dated now, but it was totally ~*hot stuff*~ back then!
The first iPhone. It may look dated now, but it was totally ~*hot stuff*~ back then! Also, despite its faults, IT HAD A FREAKING HEADPHONE JACK, OKAY?!?

In the meantime, I’d fallen in love with Apple. I raved about my computer to fellow students, which led some of them to get their parents to buy them Macs, too. I had the first iPhone. I worked as a freelance tech journalist while in school and covered the iPad launch in 2010. Everything was good.

Then, the trackpad on my laptop broke.

To be continued…

Annals of Kboards: 100,000 Words a Week

Sometimes, if I’m feeling in a certain frame of mind, I’ll go check out the forum on Kboards.com. Kboards, in case you aren’t familiar, is a forum that sprang up after Amazon invented the Kindle and set up a way for people to directly upload their content to Amazon’s site in order to sell to Kindle users. The forum is for self-publishers/indie publishers/whatever they’re calling themselves nowadays. (Sometimes people who upload their works to Amazon and other self-publishing websites get really annoyed when you call them self-publishers. They want to be called indie publishers instead. And I’m not trying to knock self-publishing, because I think it has its place and I’m considering self-publishing a book so obviously I’m not against it, but let’s not kid ourselves. If you upload your work yourself to Amazon/iBooks/Smashwords/whatever, you’re self-publishing. Let’s not mince words.)

Anyway, Kboards is full of fascinating posts. A lot of them are from people asking advice of how to market their book, or find a cover designer, or how to solve common technical problems while uploading to Amazon. All normal, run-of-the-mill stuff. Occasionally, though, you can find a post that is pure gold. Here’s this one from October (a friend shared it on Twitter back in December and the link has been sitting on my iPhone ever since because I kept forgetting to write about it). It’s called Writing 100,000 Words A Week (+Update: Becoming A No.1 International Bestseller). It is so absurd, I almost think someone made it up just to have a laugh at all of us reading it. Anyway, here are some choice excerpts from this forum thread, with my commentary interspersed.

The original poster, i.e. the person who started the topic (and therefore gave it that ridiculous title) is named Cael. So here’s a summary what she wrote to start off with: she started writing a lot (like thousands of words per day) and realized you have to be consistent. All very true, in my experience. My writing works out a lot better if I do it as often as I can. Obviously you have to be fully focused while writing—no random internet browsing, social media, etc. The poster says this and I agree.

Here’s where we come to the objectionable part: she claims she wrote 100,000 words in a week. A week, people. Now, I know not everyone “speaks” word count the way we writers do. In publishing, they usually say there are 250-300 words per printed page, which means she says she wrote 330-400 pages. In a week. Length-wise, 100,000 words is a full novel. And she claims she did this in a mere seven days.

Leaving aside the fact that you still have to edit all those words once you finish, that words out to 14,285 words per day. I don’t see how a person could physically type that much. I typed 5,000 words in a day once while working on an old project and my hands were killing me afterwards. I then realized I didn’t want to destroy my poor hands and fingers, so ever since then I’ve just aimed for consistent writing every day. I don’t manage to write every single day, but it’s pretty close. 14,000 words in one day would destroy your hands. Doing it for seven days straight would probably do irreparable damage.

“Ah, my dear Natasha,” you’re saying, “what if she isn’t actually typing? What if she’s using that clever dictation software they have nowadays?” I admit, that was one of my thoughts, too. She does mention using dictation in some instances, so it seems like she’s using a combination of both. But still, even a combination of writing and dictation to produce 14,000 words per day just doesn’t sound good or feasible in the long run. I actually have no idea how many words I speak aloud per day (because who goes around counting that sort of thing?), but I’m guessing it’s a lot less than 14,000.

Anyway, let’s take this at face value and assume she truly did write 100,000 words in a week. What did she do next, you ask? Surely she went back, read her story, made some notes of things to edit (because, let’s face it, we all make mistakes in our first drafts and don’t even realize it until later), and then commenced editing. Nope! As logical as that assumption is, it is wrong. She slapped the whole mess up onto Kindle, commissioned a cover (which even I have to admit is nice—it’s probably the only nice part of the book), and voila! She’s a “published author!” And now she’s an “international bestseller” too!

Yep, an international bestseller with a grand total of 17 reviews on Goodreads and 9 reviews on Amazon. I hate to tell you, but a true “bestseller” has a heck of a lot more ratings than that. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the book industry can tell you that. And I’m not saying self-published books can’t be bestsellers—because they can! There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is putting this word vomit up for sale and calling it an international bestseller.

Sigh. I need to stop getting so worked up about this. After all, it looks like the free market has spoken: she put her book up and most people have chosen not to read it (as evidenced by the very low review rate). Now you know why I stopped downloading self-published Kindle books. Ninety-nine percent of them are like this. I have encountered good ones here and there, but they have become more and more difficult to find because rubbish like this clogs up the searches. I’m so thankful for the library system where I live because it allows me to read decent books for free.

And now you know why I do not frequent Kboards very often! Threads like this one are enough to make your head explode!

An Essentialist Approach To Social Media

A while ago—maybe it was three or four years—it became trendy to put social media media icons on one’s blog. The point, I suppose, was to allow readers to follow the blogger on various social media accounts. If you like reading someone’s blog, it’s logical to assume you will probably enjoy their musings on Twitter, Facebook, etc. as well.

I’ve had social media icons on my blog for ages now. I’m sure it’s been years, which is an eternity in Internet Time. One thing that has changed, though, is the amount I have. I’ve gone from having a ton of icons—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, and probably some others I can’t even remember—to having only a few. The reason for this is I’ve shut down a lot of social media accounts over the years. I felt like they were sapping my energy that could be better spent writing on this blog (in the case of Tumblr, see item 15 on this list), were annoying in general (Facebook), or I simply didn’t use them anymore (Flickr). Today, I use only three social media sites with any regularity: Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

British-born author Greg McKeown wrote a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (He also has some videos on the subject if you can’t/won’t read the book. But you should read the book because it’s awesome.) In it, he argues that people are trying to do too much nowadays, and that, paradoxically, is making us less productive than ever. By concentrating on fewer things—the things that actually matter—we can be more productive and less stressed, both at work and in our personal lives.

I’ve found this philosophy to be very useful. Remember when I stopped following the news? It took up so much time and made me stressed and now that I’m not following it, I feel so much better. It was just too much to focus on.

Social media is the same way, at least for me. I’ve heard advice urging bloggers to be on as many social media platforms as possible in order to promote their blogs. If I were on a ton of social media sites every day promoting this blog, I’d possibly have more visits—but I’d have no time to do anything else in my life!

Social media can be fun, but it could quickly take over your life. In general, I think it’s better to steer clear of most social media sites. Do you really need to visit Facebook multiple times a day? (If you think you’ll lose touch with your friends, you probably aren’t that close to them, anyway. The only people I’ve lost touch with since quitting Facebook are people I didn’t talk to for years.) Do you really need to spent hours mindlessly scrolling through Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram? I admit to having done that with the first two, but I’m trying to limit my time on those sites. Instead, read a book, start writing a blog—or best of all, go make a nice crocheted afghan.

Is It Possible To Read Too Much?

That's one week's worth of reading at Oxford University. I took the photo with my webcam so that's why it's backwards.
That’s one week’s worth of reading at Oxford University. I took the photo with my webcam so that’s why it’s backwards.

I have what is most likely a strange problem among Americans today: I think I read too much.

Now, let me clarify a few things. First, I think it’s better to read too much than too little. Second, I know the terms “too much” and “too little” are subjective and vague. However, I’d define anything fewer than fifteen or twenty books per year to be too little. Why? That’s just what I feel I ought to read, minimum. Finally, most people I know err on the side of reading too little, mainly because they watch TV during most of their spare time. It makes a certain kind of sense: after all, the people who make the Game of Thrones show wouldn’t keep making new seasons of it if people weren’t watching.

Today, I finished reading my sixty-fourth book of the year. I know that’s accurate because I signed up for the Goodreads reading challenge. For this challenge, users can set their own goals of how many books to read and the website keeps track of it for you. See, here’s my personal challenge page. I set a goal of fifty books—it’s a nice round number and honestly, I’ve never tracked how many books I read, so I had no idea what to expect. As you can see, the year isn’t even over yet and I’ve already surpassed my goal.

I’m not saying that I’m going to stop reading. That would just be silly. I am thinking of cutting back slightly on my reading, though, so that I’ll have more time to write (I’m working on a novel and I want to start researching that Ukraine book) and do other things I like, such as playing violin and doing crafts. I haven’t played violin in weeks and it’s actually a bit distressing to me!

When I read, I want to focus on reading more Russian-language books. I can’t read as fast in Russian as I can in English, so sometimes I get discouraged and read a ton of English books while slowly getting through a Russian one. I have a ton of Russian books sitting around—I just need to make the effort to read them. And I need to make the effort to finish my crochet projects sometimes, rather than sit down with a book.

Do you have one hobby that tends to consume all your free time? If so, do you want to cut back on it to have time for other things?