Friday, November 6, 2015

IngramSpark - Pros, Cons, and an open letter

I chose IngramSpark as a print-on-demand (POD) company August of last year. IngramSpark is not the only POD option for independent publishers. It's not the most popular, either. Its strengths include reduced rates on printing services since it belongs to the printing giant Lightning Source, who prints most books in the USA. Also Ingram claims to produce better quality products since, again, they make use of Lightning Source's tools and printers.

They're less popular because they're newer to this game, while Lulu and Createspace have been at it a while. Ingram's interface and upload process are stricter than others, and not the most user-friendly. Also they'll only deal with publishers, not individual authors. That's why I founded Sky Island Publishing.

Since August IngramSpark has printed and distributed my debut novel, A Sawmill's Hope, in paperback and hardback. The books look clean and professionally printed. At any time, I can go online and place an order similar to the following -

As you can see, price per book at this rate comes to about $11. That's a hardback book that I can sign and sell for $20 or $25. Or even $15. And the more I order, the better a discount I get per book. The order is printed and shipped quickly. Even quicker if I want to come off extra dollars. I'm impressed with IngramSpark for this.

Unfortunately, that is not what motivated me to write this post. But I figured if I'm about to shit all over the company, I'd better give an honest story, not just the bad.

In addition to printing, IngramSpark also distributes my books to numerous online stores, most importantly Unfortunately A Sawmill's Hope, paperback, is not currently available through Amazon.

It has been "Temporarily out of stock" for some time. I don't honestly know how long and I have no idea why. When I noticed this, sometime mid-August, my first inquiries were to Amazon, who promptly replied stating they'd already placed an order to Ingram for more books.

So, I contacted IngramSpark via email. I didn't hear back so I tried again. For two months I wrote them. Six unanswered emails later, I called customer service. It was a thirty minute wait, and that's fine. I understand I'll have to wait for phone support no matter who I'm calling. But I don't often have time to sit and wait. I spoke to a representative who assured me they were hiring more people and soon they'd be able to return emails. (Because responding to your customers isn't currently a priority?)
Regarding my unavailable book she just needed to "check on a thing... ah, yep. Ok. Yeah, check back in a couple of days."

Whatever information she was trying to convey to me fell flat. It sounded like a switch needed to be flipped and that would fix everything. She couldn't answer me when I asked how we would avoid this situation in the future.

That phone call happened two weeks ago today. And the book is still unavailable.

I'm giving them a week from today then I'm pulling my paperback off IngramSpark. I'll print it through CreateSpace. This is November, a month I should be focusing entirely on writing 50,000 new words, not shopping for a new POD company. At this moment I'd like to make plans to remove IngramSpark entirely. They've communicated through action how important I am not to their business.
Unfortunately, no one can compete with their prices. $11 for a quality hardback is incredibly cheap. And one reason I chose to self-publish in the first place was so that I could have large, high-quality, illustrated hardback books. Books that a young me could fall in love with.

I was motivated to share this for a couple of reasons. I am feeling powerless and pissed off. But more importantly, I believe my visitors have something to learn here, especially those who are torn about which POD company to use. I've sang IngramSpark's praises for long enough to offer some criticism.

If I were employed by IngramSpark, I'd be riled by this post. In the hell-hath-frozen chance you are associated with IngramSpark, I'll address you directly. Except if you had listened to me by now we wouldn't be here.

Representatives of IngramSpark,
You should have responded to my emails. No matter what the response was. Even if only to say "We're extremely busy and will get to your issue as soon as we can. For quicker service, give us a call." But you didn't. For months. Even when I CC'ed international support or sent from an alternate email address, still no response. If that's not a good way to contact you, update your contact information to reflect it.
When you promised to make my book available, you should have followed through. That's your side of the deal. That's what I pay you for. At first, and for almost a year, it was that way. Then it stopped and I still don't know why. But when I made you aware of the problem, through emails and phone calls, you should have fixed it. You've had plenty of time to send Amazon some books to sell. Now if people want a paperback of my book, they're shit out of luck. 
If a solid alternative to printing quality hardbacks for cheap comes available, I will jump on it. I'll pull all titles from your company and bail with nary a backward glance. 
I have big plans for my books and my brand and Silexare in general. The parties I do business with need to be able to accommodate. I don't know how many people were denied a book because of this. Maybe none at all. But you've indicated your level of commitment to my cause and it is unacceptable.
You fix your system, and I'll be happy to party with you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

New Venues & Re-skins

Firstly - New look!
I've gilded my blog (and it should load faster)! is leafy (and it should load faster)!

I'd grown quite sick of how boring both sites were but I am absolutely balls at designing websites. What you see is what I came up with. I like it. For now.

I mentioned this elsewhere but I'll expand on it here. I have a YouTube channel that I'm not exactly flooding with content. I'd like to post all sorts of things there... including Let's Play videos. For the uninitiated, I'm referring to videos of people playing video games.

Sound lame? Maybe it is. I can't defend the practice as a whole, only what it's worth to me, from a content consumer and content producer's point of view. I'll make sure to ramble way too much. You're welcome.

First as a consumer -
Once, I had a job working second shift in an office setting. Nothing really happened after 6 pm. It was a struggle to keep busy. If I had ongoing projects, progress couldn't always be made, largely because everyone else had gone home already. Then again, sometimes I could work on projects from my office or the adjacent workroom. Either way, it was me and that office. Together forever.

Sometimes I listened to music or podcasts or audiobooks. But I preferred to have Let's Play series playing, whether I could watch and listen or just listen.

I've always wanted to play Final Fantasy VII again. I love the music, the atmospheres, the characters (most of them), the story (most of it). But I know for a fact I won't. The gameplay is not its strength (I mean, let's be honest.) I put well over 100 hours into that game when it came out. If I try to replay it now, it won't be the same. I'm okay with that.

image thanks to
(The Remake, however, is another story.) 

But what I can do is find a gamer on YouTube with half a personality and watch his playthrough as I go about my bizz.

With my current work situation I don't have that particular space to fill anymore. But when I sit down to watch something I still prefer YouTube over most alternatives. I'm utterly disillusioned with cable TV. And I'll be damned if that's not an entire post in itself. Perhaps one day I'll clean it up enough to post. We, at my house, subscribe to various streaming services. But there aren't many current shows that hold my attention.

The redeeming factor of good YouTube shows and channels (for me those include, but aren't limited to, Markiplier, Game Grumps, the Completionist, ProJared, JonTron, Game Theorists, Smooth McGroove, Games Done Quick, Jonny Atma) is that the hosts have amiable personalities (occasionally downright hilarious), they post somewhat regularly, and some of them play/review/discuss games I either don't have time to play or was considering playing myself. I don't necessarily watch all the content of those channels, and those aren't my only subscriptions. But there's more than enough to keep me busy.

Another plus is that I don't have to be sitting on my couch to view them. I can be taking a dump, or on my lunch break at work.

Also, YouTube is free.


As a producer -
I want to replay some of the games of my youth. In fact I need to. The art, music, and concepts of those games were some of my earliest inspiration. And I value inspiration. Some older games are downright therapeutic (I'm looking at you, Tetris) or they remind me what I initially fell in love with about fantasy, monsters, heroes, music, art, etc.

I'm going to play them again. Because why wouldn't I? And now I'm in a position to reflect on them and record it all, for someone else's amusement or inspiration.


I bought a decent webcam and mic and rigged up some screen capturing equipment. Last week I played through a game. I'm in the editing stages.

image thanks to

Actraiser, a Super Nintendo title that came out in 1991. I chose it because I like it, I can beat it, and it's short. Not unlike one of my other favorite things.

image thanks to the internet
Regarding the edits and preparation: I'm outsourcing some of the process to Firstborn. He's taking digital technology classes in high school and he offered to help. I'm TRYING my hardest not to influence or micromanage his work.

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of time to record videos. This is a process I need to do alone. Having Boyo or Wifey or even Firstborn around would be distracting for me and it would reflect in the quality of the video. Alone I have the freedom to act as if no one in the world is watching. Which, I guess, is a little ironic.

I can't mention all this without giving a shout out to my amigo Drew Cochran (who built the Silexare Compendium). He posts gaming vids, too. Mostly he streams to Twitch in real time.
His website,, will catch all my gaming vids from YouTube, and his vids from Twitch (and possibly more) and house them all in a nice orderly manner.

Let's see how this goes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Refresh Button - Aug 2015

A week or so ago I ventured out with my son Donavon and my brother Evan. We packed our backpacks full of useful outdoorsy stuff, donned amphibious shoes, and lined our belts with machetes and knives. We parked in a public location and hiked down a public trail. The trail ended soon enough and the adventure began. 

This will be a mostly picture blog post. Pics are straight from my cell phone, not photochopt up. 

Campsite in the morning
The river was about 40 yards south of camp, in the direction the camera is facing. It produced a covering of fog in the morning but the thick forest did a good job of keeping dew off us.

I decided to go have a look at the river as the sun was rising and I'm glad I did. I'd never seen these particular views of the river.

Where creek meets river

Fog obscured most of the river
Soggy spiderwebs were everywhere

After we'd eaten (we make sure to always pack way more food than necessary) we hiked.

A forgotten path that led to ...
... a neglected fence, where we discovered a wide gap which led to ...
... a hidden lake (abandoned granite quarry)

It might not be obvious from the pictures, but the lake is maybe 150 yards across at its widest and the highest cliff is 60-75 feet above the water. The lake is crystal clear and the water's warm, not like the river. When you throw a bright stone into the water, you can watch it for several seconds as it slips into the blue depths. Something about that clarity kept me from swimming in it. My imagination has me convinced there's a Watcher in the Water or Del Lago lurking just out of sight. For some reason, I'm more comfortable not being able to see what lies beneath.

more exploring
nap time... until it rained
Camping isn't as comfortable as not-camping. That fact seems to be people's main aversion to it. It is mine. But comfort isn't why you camp. If you can plan for and expect a level of compromised comfort before you head into the wild it'll serve you well. Then all the things to appreciate about camping will rise to the surface.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I value my blog for a lot of reasons. Whether I show it attention or ignore it entirely, it's here waiting for me. Sometimes it's a place to vent or promote. Sometimes I come here to reflect and find therapy.
Today it is a place for a sad story. Some of you know it. Some don't.
Either way, you've been warned.
The villain in me wants you to feel it.


Wednesday, July 15th
I've just gotten back to work from lunch when Bray calls. She's crying and tells me to drop everything. Evie, our four-month old daughter, has stopped breathing at the daycare. Bray is out of town, having taken Si to his 4-year check up. My job is 15 minutes from the daycare so I'm closer than she is.

I stand up to leave the office. I don't shove anyone out of the way. Why would I? Everything's fine. Bray gets emotional too easily. I'll just get to the daycare and call Bray back and let her know everything's okay. As I leave I tell Mary Ann I'll be right back. No emergency.

I'm in the car driving. I'm having trouble catching my breath. I realize I'm going 85 mph. I think about what I'll say if I get pulled over. Maybe I'll just keep driving. Finally I'm at the sitters'. There's a firetruck and an ambulance in the yard. Lights are flashing. People are standing around. Maybe things aren't exactly fine. But they'll be fine soon enough. I pull into the grass, ending up sideways by the time I stop. There's Evie's sitter. She runs to me sobbing. I'm hugging her for some reason. A paramedic approaches. He looks scared.

"Are you dad?"

"Yes." I kind of choke on the word.

"Wait right here." And he walks to the ambulance.

The sitter is inconsolable. She's apologizing to me. I don't know why.

The paramedic comes back from the ambulance and gestures me to follow. I climb aboard. Evie is lying on her back on a full-sized stretcher wearing only a diaper. She's pale and her eyes are opened. There's a paramedic performing baby-sized CPR compressions in the middle of her chest. I take hold of her foot. It's cold. One of the paramedics is talking to me. The ambulance begins moving. The siren comes on. I lock my feet so I don't slide around. I'm still holding her foot, rubbing it in my hand, but I can't get it to warm up. The paramedics are talking quickly, about syringes and cc's and Evie's color and other things. One of them tells me the best thing I can do right now is pray.

I don't consider what I did in that ambulance to be prayer. I don't even know who I was directing it at. I said, "please make her cry. please make her cry. please make her cry. please make her fucking cry."

The ambulance is taking quick turns now and the paramedics are telling me how they'll help me out when we stop. I tell them to worry about Evie, not me. We stop and the doors open and I leap out to help pull the stretcher into the hospital. On the way to the ER there are people--nurses, doctors, staff-- all staring, all standing out of the way. Inside the ER I release the stretcher and take a step back. There are maybe a dozen people in the room. They crowd around Evie. It's far quieter in here than in the ambulance. Someone pushes a chair up behind me. I sit, staring at the floor, holding my phone. Someone has to tell Bray where we are. I have to. But I don't want to cause an accident. I don't know what to tell her. I send a text. "Lavonia ER."

The room has grown even quieter. Someone with black shoes is standing in front of me. I don't look up. He introduces himself as a doctor. Then he tells me it's not looking good. He asks me if I understand. I guess I say yes because then he leaves, and the people that were there follow him out. In that moment I hate them all.

They've placed a thin sheet over Evie up to her chin. There's a breathing device in her mouth. Her eyes are still slightly opened, like when she's in a deep sleep. I want to close them before Bray gets there. I try but they won't stay closed. Maybe if I hold them closed for a few seconds they'll stay. A speck of dirt from my finger sticks to her eyelid. I lift her head to my chest. It's heavier than usual. Someone tells me they have to take pictures. I move away from the stretcher. Bray rushes in as they're pulling the breathing device out of her mouth. That's when I collapse.


They say it was SIDS. I thought that term was just a catch-all for when they have no idea. Apparently it means vital systems simply turn off, like a light switch. Something in the heart maybe. I guess if they knew what specifically, then it wouldn't still happen.

This post is titled 124 because that's how many days Evie spent with us. It's those days that I have to remember when thinking of her, not the days after.

Si and his baby Ebee

This post doesn't end on a positive a note. I'll never be a person whose perfectly healthy baby girl didn't suddenly die. This won't pass over or be done or fade away. Not as long as I have conscious thought.

But I don't want to end on a desperate note either. Bray and I are back at work, for each other and for Simon and for Donavon. We don't have a choice. We've been carried by support and love coming to us from all directions. I've attempted to write thank-you cards to all the individuals and groups of people who continue to check on us, those who brought food or gifts, or those who have just been here. As you've all told me a billion times, There are no words. I agree. But thank you, anyway. I'm not sure where we'd be without you all.

Here are my thoughts. And they are subject to evolve as I live and learn.
I don't know if what I said in the ambulance counts as prayer. But it was the very best I could do. In fact it was the only thing I had. If God is Love, then God wouldn't demand a specific string of words to be chanted at just the right moment to save Evie's life. If God is Love, then God wouldn't hold back on saving her unless I prove my devotion first. That's not love. That's extortion. If you think otherwise, you can't truly believe God is Love.
On the other hand, God was not in that event. God did not kill Evie or let her die. This wasn't punishment for her or me or Bray or the babysitter or America or anyone. This was simply the world, a place where we all live and one day we all die.
But God was in the response. The love from family and friends and long-lost acquaintances has kept us alive. It's kept us together and sane. It's why we're still going.

Lest it goes unsaid- 
We love our babysitter and are still in close contact with her. If there was ever any suspicion of wrong-doing or negligence on her part, or any rumor of ill-will from us to her, let it end here. Her husband was a first-responder. While awaiting paramedics, Evie got better emergency attention at their house than she would have at ours or most any other. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On grass

I bet my old lawnmower was a champion early in its life. It was still pretty great when I got it used five years ago. But it's mowed a lot of lawn. Now, in short, it is a piece. But I'm cheap and I do what I can to get as much use out of a thing as possible. That said, I've brought the following on myself. So although this is mostly griping, there's silver lining. Just hold on. This post is insight into my creative process.

When you start the lawnmower, it needs to warm up for about 5-10 minutes before running at a functional capacity. For this reason I bent a rusty piece of metal around the handle so I could crank it then go clear the yard of chairs, limbs, stones, toys, and all other non-mowables.

The plastic tubing that once shot mulched grass out the side of the mower broke long ago. Now the flap remains closed and cut grass just packs into the inside of the mower. The remedy for this is to pause every few minutes and pound the front wheels against the ground to clear it out so it doesn't clog and sputter to death.

The auto-drive feature failed sometime last summer because a steel cable broke. When I repaired it (read: rigged it), the cable lost some length and is now housed outside its original shielded tube. To get auto-drive to engage, you have to lift up on the handle or physically kick the exposed cable. Don't ask how I figured that out.

Most of the time I'm cutting grass, it's early afternoon, so that the sun has had time to dry the dew off the lawn. This takes longer in NE Ga because the humidity level hovers at around 800% to 900%. By then it's 95-105 degrees American, wind levels of 0.01 miles per hour. Wearing socks and shoes and shirt I'd have a heat stroke in about 3 minutes. So I wear Chacos and shorts. Unfortunately I have more fire ants in my backyard than there are hydrogen molecules in the universe (true fact). So if I can get the yard done with only 10-20 ant bites on each foot I'm doing well.

David, this sounds miserable. Why don't you hire a dude to cut it? Or get a riding mower? Or get someone who knows what they're doing to fix your lawnmower? Poison those ants? Or put on shoes? Or act really sick until your wife cuts it? Or pave your yard with cement and paint it grass green? Or invent an aberrated form of grass that strangles weeds, thrives on the blood of ants, and never grows beyond 3/4 inch tall?

I could do all those things. Eeeaasily. But I choose not to because despite all the BS I like it.
I like cutting the grass. And I like thinking about how engines work.

I've worked out more plot details and built more worlds while cutting grass than anywhere else. Something about a task that requires some but very little actual brain capacity gets my creativity working overdrive.

It was while I was cursing ants and considering deeper implications of ant bites that I worked out the details of the Redcap goblins (not their final name). Such as:
Their relationship with nearby humans (devour them all)
How they perforate the Halandor mountains with their endless tunnels
How their scouts drink their liquefied brothers and sisters, never sleep, and fear sunlight
How their queen is eternally pregnant until the moment she dies and how her daughter will be born pregnant as will her daughter and her daughter's daughter
How King "Sky" Tiverus, whose kingdom is nestled in the same mountains the goblins own, has made a fragile pact with the Redcap Queen that if he continues to supply secrets of mankind, she'll continue to have her goblins delve into Silexare's crust to barter with Calderites for custom crafted Lahuvian steel so that King Tiverus can one day build the theoretical vacuum-chamber airships.

I wouldn't give up these revelations for anything. Ant bites, heat stroke, and shite machinery are worth it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On Bloodborne

I did it... I bought Bloodborne for Playstation 4. It's my favorite game for the PS4 so far, with Shadow of Mordor a close second.

I'm not one for reviews. They typically require more structure than I'm willing to succumb to. So instead, here's my own take on Bloodborne.

I heard it was hard. "You die a lot." That's what I know about it. And so I begin. A quick intro clip reveals little to nothing as far as instruction or back story. That's fine. I climb off a bloody table where human evisceration seems to take place. I find an enemy. It's a lycanthrope twice my size. It hastily claws me to death. I come back to life and find a saw blade mounted on a curved wooden handle, not unlike a straight razor but more likely to casserole your face. I return and hack the lycanthrope until its blood paints the floor, the walls, and my clothes. I progress and find a mob of angry villagers, all in various states of transformation into beastitude. I slay them by the ones and twos. I get cocky and run into a clearing where about twelve are watching a monster burn at the stake. I'm overrun and demolished with blunderbusses and pitchforks. I die. I return. I kill. I die. Repeat.

That's the game. Except it's not as boring as that sounds. Somehow, it's incredibly addictive.
To me, the game is the spiritual successor to the golden Castlevania games of old. You're an agile warrior, alone on a gothic frontier, clueless as to what vile threats lie ahead, each more likely to rip out your soul than the last. Your enemies are abominations. Twisted humanoids, monstrous apparitions, mutated beasts. It's hard, just like the NES titles. For that, frustration is amplified... but so is your sense of accomplishment when you finally manage to slay the Blood-Starved Beast. Or Father Gascoigne.

The setting is a Transylvania-esque town at dusk, with sharp spires, tight alleys, piles of caskets, rust-colored clouds rolling over a fiery sunset. As you progress, so does the night. Eventually the full moon shows its face. Now, upon streets where once stalked maddened villagers, stand ghouls, silhouetted against the pale moon, able to kill you with one stomp. Where eerily-tall clerics shambled wearing wide-brimmed hats and dead eyes, the streets have grown silent, blanketed by the shadow of an enormous void beast, perched across the steeples of the cathedral like a great spider.

All this game lacks to be one of the best Castlevanias of all time is Castlevania's soundtrack. Especially the Bloody Tears theme from the previous titles. Or Smooth McGroove's rendition. Or Jonny Atma's rendition.

Arghh, can you f-ing imagine?!

I'm going to play it now.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Art by Tasi Volume 1: Living Dreams

Allow me to introduce Jason Tasi's debut art collection, Art by Tasi Volume 1: Living Dreams!

This is a collection of 60+ illustrations and paintings, but only represents a fraction of the artwork Tasi has created throughout his life.
He is responsible for all the artistic content  - the cover art, the border designs, and obviously all the illustrations and paintings. I handled the technical aspects - spacing, placement, format, text editing, and the actual publishing.

I introduced Jason on the blog in November of last year and talked about us collaborating on several projects this year. I freakin told you this was going down. If you haven't seen it yet, go check it out.

My take on this collection
Tasi didn't ask me to write a synopsis or review of his book. He didn't give me any words to say on it. I'm terrible at promoting, or I'd do better at selling my own stuff. How about I just be honest?

One word synopsis - Variety

The strength of this collection is its variety.

There are high-contrast, thick-outline, crisp illustrations in the style of comic books or graphic novels. Some of Tasi's chief inspiration is comic book art, as evidenced by his collection of comics and memorabilia at his house, in his car, around his shop.

There are conceptual illustrations, with detailed, unique designs. These are more of a tattoo-art style. Given Tasi's years of experience tattooing, this only makes sense.

But my favorite are the ink and watercolor images. These are natural, organic, and they all show off Tasi's signature style.

The book is available online (visit its home at Sky Island Publishing!) or for sale by Mr. Jason Tasi himself, if you are in the area or if you see him at a conference.

If you want to follow Tasi's doings or see more of his art check out his profile at the following sites!

Silexare Compendium



Deviant Art

Saturday, March 28, 2015

REPAIRING my busted computer (2/2)

I've already DIAGNOSED (1/2) the machine and SHOPPED (1.5/2) for replacement parts.
Now for the gut-grinding conclusion!

Follow these numbingly simple, yet intricately detailed steps to repair your own computer, in the case that your situation directly mirrors mine. (ie, you are me in a parallel dimension)

First, flank yourself tightly with boyo and doggie, on the west and east respectively.

But for real.

old yeller
Here's my old PC. Besides weighing 800 kilopounds and being uglier than Mr. Tumnus' taint, it actually was a decent machine. Until it died.

I went ahead and stripped all parts from it - RAM, CPU, vid card, all cables and finally mobo. The case alone weighs as much as a car door so it should fetch a solid chunk of change at the Junk Monkey considering it's cast iron.

**I recommend not shuffling about too much when playing with computer guts. Static electricity is the silent killer**

From the old PC, I'm salvaging the following - Vid card, HDD, and power supply (notably NOT modular)
objects not to scale
From the old PC, I'm damning to Sheol the following - disc drive (because it's IDE, not SATA), proc, RAM and motherboard.
not pictured: stuff besides what's pictured

The new case! ATX is its size/shape (although I accidentally ordered a micro ATX mobo). The image on the right shows the installed pegs. The holes where pegs should be inserted are labelled according to the size of the motherboard you're installing. I had a bunch of pegs left over from various projects so I just filled in all the holes. That will assist with support eventually. If you've ever installed RAM, you'll understand the need.
much sleeker than the old
Left is the mobo sans case. Middle is the mobo installed. Now the size discrepancy between case and motherboard becomes obvious. The rightmost image is the plate that pops into the back of the case to accommodate the ports on the motherboard.
In that middle pic, you'll notice the (original) power supply is back in place.

**I didn't specifically say this because it's pretty obvious. But let's get it said now. You should be really careful during each step. Be in a low-dust, low-dirt, low-humidity situation. Make sure you aren't scooting across a trampoline or other fabric that generates static electricity.**

Now. Shall we proceed?

Do this part with clean hands. The CPU fits into its home on the motherboard in only one way. Just eyeball it and figure out what way that is before touching down. On the system board is forest of little pins that each need to make contact with a corresponding micro-sized square on the processor itself. I apologize for the barrage of technical jargon. 
I'm using the heatsink and fan that came in the box with the new Intel processor. The only reason I'd upgrade to an aftermarket heatsink is if this fan proves to be too noisy or if it doesn't cool enough. As I've mentioned, I'm not extreme gaming or OCing the proc so I get the feeling this one will suffice.

Pic 2 is application of thermal paste. It's mandatory. And it's inexpensive. Far right - Fan installation. This can be tricky.
Almost home. Notice the below images. On the left you'll see the cables from the case. Those need to be inserted in specific ports on the motherboard and it's not always obvious as to where. For this reason, keep the motherboard booklet handy. Or get a magnifying glass and try to decipher the cryptic labels written onto the board itself.
Middle picture. The power supply will need to plug into most everything inside the case. If your power supply is modular, you can attach only the necessary amount of cables. If it's not modular, then it looks like Medusa. Good luck stuffing all those unneeded cables into the case in a way that doesn't block fans.
Right pic shows my installed video card. Pretty straight forward. Stick it in the slot. You'll have to remove a plate or two from the back of the case for the card to fit. It'll need some juice from the power supply, too.

Among the steps not pictured include installing RAM and plugging in the various SATA devices. For my purposes, that includes only the HDD. No, I don't have a disc drive. Poor forethought. Then a realization that, for the most part, I don't need one.

RAM shot
G Skill? G's Kill? GSK Ill?
At last, place the cover on the case and reconnect USBs, video, audio, network, and finally AC!
Yes, that is a Sky Island Publishing mug. Be jealous.
Press the power button and viola!


to die!
Boot up failure.

Perhaps I'll discuss software failure in a future blog. Meanwhile, be comforted. That you're reading this indicates that it all worked out.

Thanks for hangin' with.

Here's part 1 - Diagnosing
Here's part 2 - Shopping

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SHOPPING to fix my busted computer (1.5/2)

Step 1 - Diagnosis is here
Step 3 - Repairing is here

Again, this is written by a semi-pro, for semi-n00bs. If you find erroneousity and are feeling generous, let me know in the comments or on Google+ and I might not go "pshhht. jog on." 


So my PC had a bad system board. I went on, searched "desktop motherboard" and got one billion results. Let's narrow that down. On the left most column, I checked "New" and "4 eggs" and "5 eggs."
Our choices are significantly narrowed. What else is important? I checked form factor ATX and Micro ATX. This, basically, is the size of your mobo and determines what case will work. ATX is pretty standard and Micro ATX can fit in an ATX case (is that preferred? idk and idc).
Down to less than 200 results. Cool. But still too many. What else to check? How about socket type? This will determine what sort of processor you get (so if you already have a processor in mind, you might want to check this one first).
For my needs, I checked LGA 1155. I'm now down to 18 results. Still too many.
I'm not going to trust a motherboard that costs $30. I don't care how many stars it has. So the final qualifier I established was price. Nothing less than $50. Nothing more than $100.
10 results. This, I can manage. And once I found the perfect board, I copied the model number to Google and to Amazon. Just seeing if there are better prices or red flags.
I think ended up spending around $75.

Okay! What's next? This is a different socket type than my old mobo. So I'll need a new proc.
Search "CPU." Click Workstation - Processor. Narrow choices by socket type LGA 1155. Down to 13 choices? Perfect.
This purchase, unlike your mobo, will better determine the strength of your PC. Don't skimp on it. If you can spend $200 here, by all means, you'll do well.  My recommendations? No less than quad-core. I don't care what your uses are. You can process word docs, browse the web and play modern games with this. You will be able to for several years to come. Anyone who says otherwise is a huge mouth-breathing nerd that drinks obscure, flavored Mt Dew. With a rebel yell, give that person a wedgie and plant your toe in their vertex. Then find a proc model number and search it on Amazon and Google.

*you have a decision to make here. After market CPU cooler / heat sink or not. To simplify- Are you overclocking your proc? If yes, might want to get an after market. If you don't even know what that means, you're all good.*

Case. This was simple for me. I don't care at all what it looks like. Gimme cheap ATX w a 5 eggs rating.
I ended up spending $30. When you see pics of my old case, you'll understand how little appearance matters to me.

Next. Memory. My old board supported DDR2 (aka, it was dated). My replacement mobo supports DDR3. Search newegg for Desktop Memory. Check "New" and "5 eggs". At this point you'll need to know your budget and your aim. Don't go less than 4GB or your new baby will be born obsolete. I'd suggest looking down the left column for "capacity" and making a selection between 4GB and 16GB.
*If you need more than 16GB of memory, you're reading the wrong blog. You should be writing your own.  Also, your nose is for breathing.*
Again, this is the 'hands' of your PC. How much it can handle. How big a job it can run with. Don't skimp here either. You can probably get by spending less than $150. Amazon, Google, and might have better prices on the model you find.

Video Card. Okay, here our paths might part. I am keeping my old card. It suffices. I'm not going for cutting edge. If you are, you might want to research elsewhere. Find the most expensive desktop video card / graphics card on Newegg and see what makes it amazing. Quintuple monitor support. 8 GB GDDR5 memory. Now scale that back until you can afford it. Things to keep in mind are form factor (The mobo we picked out is ATX / Micro ATX) and wattage requirements. That will determine what sort of PSU you need.

Speaking of PSU's!
Power Supply Unit. I'm keeping my old one here. But standard search applies (desktop PSU) if you're replacing. How much juice does your vid card need? 600 watts? That's how you'll narrow your choices. It doesn't have to be exactly 600, but it can't be less. If you can find a power supply that's modular, GET IT! This will simplify things later. Just trust me.

I kept my old hard drive. Although it's HDD (rather than SSD) it's 640 GB and still kicking. Plenty of space for me. If you're shopping, I'd suggest SSD. I go into why a bit more on the previous post.

*This doesn't include peripherals, disc drives, etc. You want a Blu ray player/burner? Want card reader for your Micro SD, etc? Standard search. These devices will communicate w your mobo via SATA cables. Therefore search SATA Blu Ray drive, SATA card reader. Make sure it has 5 eggs. Because why the hell would you settle for less?


I replaced mobo, cpu, RAM and my case. Spent less than $300. The cool thing about shopping from Newegg is that they throw the occasional odd gift in the box with your purchase. Sometimes it's useless. Sometimes it's cool.

Stay tuned for the soul quenching finally! In 2/2 I'll finale wrap up this grandiose adventure of PC replacement and, at last, reveal all those pictures I promised!


PS Next go round I'll spell everythign write!

PBSS I pormise!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How I DIAGNOSED my busted computer (1/2)

This is part one of three. Here's 2 - Shopping for parts and here's 3 - Fixing the PC.


Once upon a time, at the end of January, I unhooked my desktop computer to take it to SCAD for Global Gamejam 2015. I was going to get together with a team I trusted and produce a video game in 48 hours. I was the composer/sound designer.
We arrived and the event was cancelled. It was actually a tragic situation that I won't go into here.
I arrived home feeling chapfallen. I hooked my PC back up, powered it on, and it crashed. A message about "memory, something, something" flashed and the computer shut down quietly.
The end.

The following will be my laymen's attempt at unlaymenizing the most laymen of you. This is NOT all inclusive. Not even close.
I can't legitimately call myself a technological laymen because I have education and experience in the field. But I know enough to know there's plenty I don't know.
Here we go!


Couple of terms we'll be using -

First and foremost, let's get this out of the way. That thing you work on? It's called a computer. It's either a laptop or a desktop. Which is it? Quick tip - Is it on your lap? There's your answer. ALL OTHER TERMS IMPLY SOMETHING ELSE.

Is it a
  • PC? - Yes! But only if it's a Windows-based computer.
  • CPU? No. That's the processor. You can't compute on a processor alone.
  • Processor? No. See above.
  • Harddrive? No. That's your storage. It's one of several components that makes up a computer.
  • Labtop? Yes. But only if it sits directly on your lab.
  • Modem? God no. Come on. That's a device that MOdulates and DEModulates between analog line and digital data. (It provides internet)
  • Monitor? No. That's the screen. You know, the thing you monitor. 
  • Tower? Yes! Another acceptable term. But desktop is less ambiguous. 
  • Mac or Macbook? Yes, if it's an overpriced status symbol an Apple-based computer. But let's be real. Apple folks don't work on their own computers. Apple won't let them.
motherboard, systemboard - The nervous system. This refers to the object that connects all working parts of the computer. It's flat and seems plastic and has little junks soldered all over it. Be careful with it.
Memory - (NOT storage) Your computer's hands. This basically determines how much your computer can carry at once. The more giggly gigs, the better. Memory cards for desktop computers are roughly 1" x 4" and usually look like tiny green mobos.
Processor, Proc - The brain. It's here that all the thinking takes place. Need to add 1+1 on the caclulator? Any single-core Pentium will do you. Need to render a 2 hour video with 12 layers of video and 15 layers of audio? Better get an i7.
This sits tightly on the proc and saps its heat while all the thinking is going on. Typically it has a fan mounted on it.
Video card
Vid card, Graphics card - The brain for your graphics. Necessary for 3D rendering, gaming, etc.
Power Supply Unit - The heart. This takes AC from your wall and pumps it into the various components of your computer.
HDD, SSD, Drive
Hard Disk Drive, Solid State Drive, Storage - Not memory. But it is the equivalent of a human's memory (sorry to be confusing). This component holds all the docs, pics vids, programs, etc.
HDDs involved moving parts. They're noisier, slower, and more fragile than SSDs. But SSDs are considerably more expensive.
*SSDs use the same technology as your USB flash drive*
Operating Sytem. This differs based on your platform.
  • Windows - XP, Vista, 7, 8.1 
  • Mac - OSX or iOS or something about cats. Snow leopard, Liger, etc. 
  • Linux - Something random... redhats and ubuntu's and stuff like that
  • Android - typically food. Huckleberry, Gluten-free strawberry shortcake, etc.
  • VGA - video cable with blue ends. Able to secure with twisty screws.
  • DVI - video cable with white ends. Able to secure with twisty screws.
  • HDMI - audio/video cable with black ends that are shaped like a modified trapezoid. For computer use, these typically only carry video signal.
  • AC - black cable, thicker than video cables usually, that goes from PSU to AC adapter or power strip.
  • SATA - It replaced the IDE cable (that huge obnoxious ribbon-like cable that cluttered up the inside of PCs)
  • IDE - Obnoxious cable. Slow and bulky.

The Diagnosis

*First, determine if it's hardware or software.*
The computer's lights came on but no fans started. Nothing came up on either monitor at all. This is a hardware issue. Software issues (usually an affected OS) don't come into play until a little later in the boot process, typically after text appears on the monitor.
Let's check the primary monitor.
*Go ahead and check ALL cables while you're at it*
The monitor's AC cable was firm in the monitor and the power strip. The DVI was firm in the monitor and the desktop's video card. The light came on on the monitor and when I cycled power, text appeared on the screen - "No signal," etc.
Perhaps the video card is bad.
I powered off the computer by holding the power button.
*Don't use that method unless your PC is unresponsive. Comps prefer to shut down gently, on their own terms. DO NOT power off while computer is updating.*
Unplugged AC. Unplugged VGA and DVI cables from vid card. Opened the computer's case. Removed the vid card from mobo.
*Don't handle on the inner workings of computers if you're carrying any static electricity. Figure out how to discharge it or keep yourself grounded. It only takes a spark to fry a mobo.*
I plugged primary monitor up to the VGA port on the back of the PC. Plugged AC back up and tried again. No sounds, no nothing. I'm still convinced it's hardware. Probably mobo or CPU. It's probably not the PSU or lights wouldn't come on.
Let's narrow it down. I want to remove ALL components that aren't absolutely mandatory.
Unplugged AC once more. Unplugged SATA cable from HDD and the disc drive and removed RAM.
*PCs will beep in pain if they attempt to boot with no RAM. If they don't beep, the issue might be with the mobo.*
Plugged AC up once more and power on. No error beep.
At this point I know the issue is the mobo or proc. And to be honest, it doesn't really matter which. Both are 6+ years old. If I replace one, I'll have to replace both. Mobos and procs must share the same socket type. But for gits and shiggles, I went ahead and removed the CPU (had to remove the fan and heatsink first). Plugged up AC and turned on. Still nothing.


Bad mobo.


Who knows? I built this comp in college and got lots of years out of it. I call this death natural causes.


Get on Newegg and Amazon and order replacements.


This next post will be PICTURES! Lots and lots of pictures! Of computer parts...
A fun read? Absolutely, compared to reading the contents on the back of a shampoo bottle.

I'll be Bach. In the meantime, if you're left with questions, post them in the comments and I'll edit the answers into this post!

Keep 'er easy.