I Build a Writing Machine

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

My Raspberry Pi writing machine sitting on top of my secretary. The top folds shut holding the wireless keyboard and mouse inside. I still can use the secretary for handwriting, note vintage Sheaffer Triumph nib fountain desk pen, ink bottles, and stack of filled Moleskines on the left.

 

I am always involved in a quest for writing machines. I have a couple of laptops (one Linux, one Windows) that I use all the time. But they have web browsers, graphic programs and all other sorts of diversions and I wanted something that would work perfectly for writing first drafts – a distraction-free environment that gives me what I need and nothing more.

A little over seven years ago I bought a secretary and have been using it for handwriting ever since. I used to have a laptop concealed within – but that gave out years ago and modern laptops tend to be too big to fit. I was trying to think of the best way to add digital writing to my secretary, always plotting. I’m poor too, so the solution had to be cost-effective.

And then along came the Raspberry Pi – more specifically the Pi 3. For a small price you can buy a functional computer about the size of a pack of cigarettes – now with builtin WIFI and Bluetooth. It won’t play the newest games or display complex websites, but it is more than adequate for, say a word processor.

Exactly what I needed.

So I set to work. First the Raspberry Pi itself in a cheap ready-made case – attached to the back of a cheap, used monitor that I bought at Goodwill for ten bucks. The key is an USB powered HDMI to VGA converter to make the Raspberry Pi work with the old monitor. Then I bought a small plug strip with USB outlets and glued that to the bottom of the monitor stand. That runs the Pi, the converter, and the monitor itself (I bought a very short cord for the monitor) – so I can move it  all as one unit with only one power outlet.

The Raspberry Pi has four USB ports – two are used for USB thumb drives – one for data storage (I don’t trust MicroUSB cards – so I store all my data on the thumb drive and swap it out periodically) and the other to move files off when I’m done writing. Another USB port is used for a wireless keyboard/mouse combo.

And that’s it for the hardware. The native Pi software, Raspbian, is more than adequate for this task. The Pi has an ethernet port, but since I rarely connect to the internet, the WIFI is fast enough. So far, I don’t even use the Bluetooth, but might set up a wireless file transfer eventually.

The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ attached to the back of the monitor. You can see the HDMI adapter cord,the two USB thumb drives and how it is powered by the small white plug strip. Underneath the shelf is the Microsoft transmitter for the wireless keyboard and mouse.

The machine is fast enough to use any one of several Word Processors. I use Emacs Org Mode for todo lists, outlines, and planning – it’s great (will have to write about that sometime).

For first draft writing, however, I’ve settled on FocusWriter. It provides an efficient, full-screen, distraction-free writing environment which I’ve customized into white text on blue (like WordPerfect 5.1 in the old days – the best writing environment I’ve ever used). Best of all, in the status bar it displays time, word count, and percentage of the daily writing goal completed – which is more than cool. It really makes it easy to crank out the daily number of words.

I do also run a thesaurus and can check Wikipedia if I need to, though the idea is to stay off the web. It really works well – a creative space optimized for cranking out first drafts.

Editing? That’s the tough thing… and a topic for another day.

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Money (L’Argent) by Zola

Money (L’Argent) by Emile Zola

“In love as as in speculation there is much filth; in love also, people think only of their own gratification; yet without love there would be no life, and the world would come to an end.”
― Émile Zola, L’Argent

 

Ok, for awhile now I’ve been working my way through Zola’s Rougon-Marquat 20 novel series of French life in the Second Empire – Reading them not in the order that they were written, but in the recommended reading order.

Money (L’Argent) is the eighteenth book written, but it is a sequel to La Curée, the 3rd book in the recommended order, so I read Money as the fourth. It has the same cast of characters – a little older but definitely no wiser.

I really enjoyed the book. It is a tale of rivers of money, oceans of gold, all stolen, gambled, speculated on. It is, of course, more relevant today than it was when it was written. I couldn’t help but do some re-research into the latest financial crisis and how similar the disaster was to the greed and insanity described in the novel.

In La Curée Aristide Saccard (he changed his last name from Rougon to avoid embarrassment to his powerful politician brother) rose and fell on naked ambition and audacious financial manipulations. In the sequel he finds himself broke, but with the same greed, reckless daring, and collection of equally devious connections. He sets out to turn the world on its head. The story of speculation and deceit is fascinating and engrossing and worth the careful reading it takes.

The whole adventure comes down to a final cataclysmic battle between Saccard’s bulls and the bears that oppose him. I still don’t completely understand how the bears make money – other than the destruction of Saccard and his allies – I didn’t read much about how they went about short selling for example – but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

So now it’s on the the next, The Dream (Le Rêve). I have already taken a look, started it, and it seems to be completely different in style and theme from the rest of the series. We’ll see.