Tag Archives: computers

Colorado Gold 2014: Great Conference But What the Tech?

Earlier this month, I attended RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference. Wow, what a whirlwind weekend, packed with informative sessions on fiction writing and the writing business and so many great people to meet. Every day felt like two days because they managed to cram in so much great content. Although the sessions and keynotes were excellent, that’s not really the aspect of the conference I’d like to address.

One of my primary goals for the conference was networking, meeting other writers and sharing stories and experiences, and in that regard the weekend was a great success. I’m not usually a hugely outgoing person, so often in large groups such as this I find myself on the outside. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, the RMFW anthology Crossing Colfax, in which I have a short story, debuted at this conference, which certainly helped.

My conference badge included an “Anthology” ribbon so some attendees would see that and ask about my story. I also got to meet and chat with most of the other included authors—generally easy to spot because they also had the “Anthology” ribbon. The anthology has fifteen stories, and all but one of the authors were at the conference. Even before the conference, I’d begun following many of the authors on social media, so the conference was a nice opportunity to meet in person.

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker at RMFW Colorado Gold 2014

Keynote speaker Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, speaking during one of his sessions at Colorado Gold 2014.

In case I’ve not made this clear before, I’m a big believer in the power of social media. A conference such as Colorado Gold is a perfect chance to meet people face to face—but social media still can play a part. So, as I said, I planned ahead, following people’s blogs and Twitter handles who I wanted or expected to meet. In the days leading up to the conference, I began watching Twitter for the conference hashtag, #RMFW2014, to find other attendees to follow and engage with. And during the conference sessions, I tweeted out key points and quotes from speakers as they occurred, or retweeted what others had to say about sessions I didn’t attend.

This social media approach to conferences is something I learned when I attended technology conferences as a journalist. At those conferences, the IT pros in attendance frequently had two or three different mobile devices, all needing a connection, because in some cases they might need to be on call for remote assistance back at the office—therefore, a strong, reliable WiFi signal throughout all areas of the conference floor, including session rooms, was a must. At Colorado Gold, having no WiFi in the session rooms was a bit of a shock.

This technological omission caused me to evaluate how others at the conference appeared to use technology overall. So, as I sat in session rooms, taking notes with OneNote on my laptop and ready to tweet on my smartphone, I’d look around and see what others were doing. I was really rather surprised to see that most people, if they took notes, were doing so by hand: pen to paper. How very old school! Although I didn’t do any firm counts, I’d estimate that probably no more than 15 or 20 percent of attendees used a laptop or tablet for note-taking.

Long ago, I abandoned taking notes longhand because, one, I know I won’t go back and re-read them, and two, I probably couldn’t read my own writing if I did. Of course I know plenty of people feel there are benefits of using a physical pen and paper in helping you remember what you’re writing. My counter to that would be that I don’t need to remember—well, no more than a keyword, anyway. If I have some idea what someone talked about or who said it, I can search for a keyword—I don’t have to remember how long ago it was or what physical notebook it was in—and I can pull up the material. As long as I’m using something like OneNote on cloud storage, I can pull up that information not just on my PC/laptop but also on a phone or tablet—anytime, anywhere access.

Twitter also serves as a repository of notes: Whatever I tweet during a session or keynote remains in my tweet stream for later access as well. As mentioned previously, using the conference hashtag also makes tweets available to other conference attendees who might have missed that particular session. Additionally, when you get a lot of people tweeting from the same conference, it creates a sort of buzz around the event for those not in attendance—and quite possibly making them want to attend the next time.

During the conference, I had a conversation with three of the founding members of RMFW, Kay Bergstrom, Carol Caverly, and Jasmine Cresswell, about the early days of the organization. At some point, the discussion turned to writers’ use of technology, and Kay Bergstrom remarked that in the 1980s, writers in her circle were all early adopters of PCs and related technology because they saw how it made the business of writing easier. To my mind, writers today should take advantage of social media, cloud storage, and other current technologies for the same reason.

I always look for the technology solution. Whether it’s attending sessions at a writing conference or sitting alone at my computer to do some writing, I’m pretty sure there’s some trick, some procedure, that can help the day go a little smoother. But I recognize—and glancing around those session rooms at Colorado Gold was a great reminder in this—that not everyone, certainly not every writer, has the same approach to technology or the same abilities.

For the writers out there, I’d be interested to hear what role technology plays in your writing life. Do you struggle with social media and creating an online presence? Or do you navigate the online world with ease? Do you worry about how to handle backups of your digital assets (i.e., writing)? Do you wonder what the best program or application for writing is? Or do you have recommendations about any of these topics to help your fellow writers? Are you committed to writing longhand at least part of the time? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Other posts on RMFW Colorado Gold 2014:

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

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Machines in Music and the Modern World

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festh...

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festhalle, Sept.26 1984) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who knows me for even a short while will probably discover that music is a big part of my life. I listen to music all the time, and I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of styles and artists. But as far as I’m concerned, in the great history of rock and roll, Queen stands at the pinnacle. As I frequently say, Queen is my “Shakespeare of Music.” That is, if I could listen to no other band for all eternity, the full Queen catalog would provide ample sustenance.

One of my favorite Queen songs is “Machines” from The Works. In the diverse pantheon of great Queen songs, this probably isn’t one of the band’s best-known tracks. Even the CD isn’t one most American fans would turn to, although it was a pretty big deal in their native UK. Listening to The Works recently, I was reminded of not only how exceptional Queen was at their best, but also how prescient they could be, and nowhere on the record is that more obvious than in the song “Machines.”

(Now might be a good time to scroll below and click Play on the video link to listen to the song.)

The CD came out in 1984, which for those who recall, corresponds to the early days of personal computing. The term PC was around, if not yet synonymous for personal computer, so it’s pretty interesting that Queen, in “Machines,” used such terminology as disk drive, bytes and megachips, and random access memory—and they made such lingo fit nicely into a rock song. Perhaps more incredible, they used these terms in a way that still sounds appropriate today rather than dated.

As the song begins, the synthesized “machine” voice seems to chant for the machines. In the first verse, Freddy Mercury sings the lyric “When the machines take over / It ain’t no place for rock and roll.” It’s easy here to take the song as a comment on the growing use of technology and synthesizers in music destroying the purity and power of good old-fashioned rock and roll. Although that’s a valid interpretation, it’s also too simple.

The song actually comes with a subtitle or alternate title: “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’).” The song presents a picture of a society struggling to find a space for humanity in a world increasingly controlled by computers. As I look around today and see everyone with their faces glued to their smartphone or tablet screens wherever they go, I’m ready to shout “Back to humans!” along with Freddy.

Cover of "Works"

Cover of The Works

This song was co-written by Brian May and Roger Taylor. Even 10 years ago—let alone the nearly 30 years ago when they wrote “Machines”—I don’t think we could have truly predicted the vast changes in lifestyle that mobile computing would bring. But then, as now, society was on the cusp of change and no one could quite tell where it was leading. Perhaps that’s why the final message of this song still resonates:

Living in a new world
Thinking in the past
Living in a new world
How you gonna last?

If you work with technology, you’re probably one of the ones on the forefront of change—you’re not stuck thinking in the past. But even if you don’t live and breathe in the machine’s world, technology is still changing the way you live and the way you interact with the world. That doesn’t mean you need a smartphone, or an iPad, or even a computer, to live in this “new world” and be successful—but you’d better at least be educated enough to be part of the conversation.

Both musically and lyrically, “Machines” still sounds fresh to my ears almost 30 years after my first listen. I suppose today it might need to talk about virtualization or big data to stay on the cutting edge, but I think the boys knew what they were doing. Oh, and did I mention the song also uses the (invented) word parahumanoidarianised? Check it out!

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins