Sunday, March 24, 2019

100 WRITERS _____ I dream of super personal computing

NOTE: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS thing. Read all the posts here.

Hello! It is Sunday and a good time to share some writing geekery, why not. This is the kind of stuff that fills my head now and then and sometimes I discuss this with my kids and in our house this passes for amusement.

The photo, this is my new writing setup. Details and specs below somewhere, do read on. I spent a few months looking up and comparing different options, until I decided on this. What you see is an E-ink tablet running Android 6, with an Apple keyboard from 10 years ago, so it's an older model with keys that pop up a bit more, and it feels good when my fingers pound on them. 

E-ink is like a big game changer. It has no screen glare or reflection or backlighting, and it's like reading words printed on paper. Which sounds boring if you're a kid wanting to play some violent survival FPS game, but heavenly if you have to write and read lots and lots all day, all week, all year. 

Also, recently there's been a wave of crowdfunding projects for E-ink text editors, so I know I'm not the only one.

These words you're reading, I wrote with this setup. If all goes well, this will be the future of computing in my home.


In the 70s, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were trying to kickstart a new era in technology: the age of personal computing. Up till then, computers were gigantic machines that sat in specially secured rooms, and programmers would book slots to work on them. 

But Gates and Jobs, brave radicals, had a different vision: in their ideal future, ordinary people would have computers in their own homes, and use these machines for everyday tasks like collecting recipes, writing books, cataloging music collections, making art, and so on.

That was then.

Now, forty years after, I miss the age of personal computing.

These days, yes, I have computers at home. Quite a few. But I can't consider them personal anymore, not in that original sense. I paid for the computers, and the mobile computing gadgets that are really mini-computers, but they don't feel like they're 100% mine, they don't really obey me, they seem always eager to obey their hardware and software overlords. The clicks I make online are logged and reported and analysed, the screens I'm shown are optimised to hijack my attention, the software I use has to be renewed annually, or updated frequently, and apparently even Mark Zuckerberg doesn't trust the camera on his laptop. 

So it's not my computer anymore. There are too many corporate ghosts haunting it.

Not like in the old days, running DOS and WordPerfect, or later the Macintosh Classic, which for a while was the main machine assigned to writers. 

When I had a computer back then, and yes it would hang, or crash, or glitch, but those problems were all mine. It was part of the personal relationship between Man and Machine. In return for putting up with this, I could create documents on it and it would keep my documents faithfully. The computer wouldn't keep insisting that it had to inform on me to its maker every now and then. It wouldn't refuse to work unless I upgraded the software. It wouldn't use my online habits against me, by optimising what I see or click on for the benefit of some advertiser.

I just wanna do what I wanna do without my computer trying to know better. 

Also for some years already, people in the "knowledge work" circles have been pointing out that it's actually massively counterproductive to have your work computer also be your entertainment computer also be your communication computer also be your online shopping computer also be your gaming computer. Not only that, it will can drive you nuts because the user experience these days is designed to encourage addictive screen behaviour and you don't want to be sucked into that loop. (Oh dear, too late?)

The biggest damage, though, might be how all this is affecting the younger ones. Kids who are assigned online homework are more often now doing this on their phones, in between all their other addictive mobile phone activities. Seems like they go from cradle into this dark reality where their brains are accelerated into group chat zombie mode and they can't make it through the day without a steady diet of random YouTube videos.

Back then it started with mainframe computing, which evolved into personal computing, and now what can we call this era?

Maybe call it invasive computing.

Interruptive computing? 

Or maybe call it hostile computing, to borrow a term from hostile architecture.

I've made it my personal mission, this year, to create a conducive personal computing environment at home. I think it matters. 

Back to what you're see in the photo: This E-ink tablet is a Boox Poke Pro, and I'm running IAWriter, a free text app that handles Markdown format, which goes a long way for me because I started using text-based project management frameworks many years back. 

I also have Pocket installed, for reading online stuff, and it's always set to Article view, which means the text is displayed in a continuous flow without any distracting web design or sidebars or whatever. 

The ebook reader takes txt, PDF, Mobi, Epub and other formats, so far it seems as good as my Kindle Paperwhite except maybe for some the PDFs that are image heavy. 

There's also a web browser that lets me override the webpage layout and display the content in a single slim column. 

Writing on this E-ink tablet is somehow a familiar experience. It's kind of like how I banged out music reviews on WordPerfect in the early 90s. It's kind of like the overnight marathon writing sessions on the barebones monochrome Macintosh Classic during my undergrad years. It's kind of like writing TV show pitches on my Handspring Visor with an attached keyboard in the early 2000s. 

Yes, it's kinda primitive. I can't even share this piece from here, I'll need to Bluetooth it to my phone, which will have a photo of this setup so I can show it to you. 

But what I do have is a simple computing space that's just me and my words and a modest little device that stores the text and waits patiently for me to do whatever I want with it. 

I can take a break from writing and pick up the device and walk around the house. Or I can take it to a cafe somewhere, or the park. Just me and these words on an eye-friendly screen, quality contemplation time, without all those other apps and UX features jostling for my attention.

That's personal enough for me. 

It's all I actually need.

I feel really connected to this writing experience again, something that I've been missing more and more. 

I've also been looking at making custom E-ink writing devices in limited batches, for kids to work with, or for people who miss the experience of personal computing. I'm thinking it should cost under $100, and then you can go crazy with the casing and use different materials, engraving, embed glittery suff, etc. And it will look and feel totally personal and quirky and free from invasive UX.

Hello, hope you're enjoying this nice Sunday, and this is what I'm thinking about. 

I wish you happy writing! :)

— D

. . . . . . . . . 

It's #BuySingLit season!
Do check out IMAGINE ALL THIS, published by
Marshall Cavendish, in which I share
everything I know about writing fiction.
You can be a cool writer too!

Lots of fun photos!

Monday, February 18, 2019

LAST KID RUNNING _____ This is my new interactive fiction series, to be published by Penguin Random House SEA around Sept this year

Time for the Big Announcement! My new thing this year is a science fiction interactive story series called LAST KID RUNNING, which will be published by Penguin Random House SEA. I'll be posting more info about this series soon.

Photo above is from their super cool launch party last week. I also have a mention in this Straits Times article, near the end:

"Singaporean children's author Don Bosco, 47, who will be publishing interactive thriller series Last Kid Running with Penguin Random House SEA, said: "It seriously feels like a giant alien spaceship has suddenly appeared, zapped me up, and inserted me into an unbelievable new reality. Last year I was making up stories for Singapore readers. This year I'm making up stories for readers across South-east Asia, and the world."

Here is another quote I gave, which wasn't used:

“Our LAST KID RUNNING series is an interactive fiction thriller, and we want to use this interactive, open-ended element to make reading fun again, because kids these days are growing up with smartphones, and their minds are always itching to swipe and make choices. They need new book concepts that can accommodate this.

Also, the series features a genius inventor-entrepreneur, Dr Tomato Yamato, who uses cutting-edge technologies like AR, VR, smart fabrics, social analytics, artificial intelligence, etc, to create a new kind of super cool competitive running event, so that kids can have first class fun. We hope both girls and boys will read this and develop a passion for STEAM.”

Another important matter: a few years ago, when I started Super Cool Books with my kids, I made the commitment that I would share all publishing opportunities and privileges that came my way. I started the 100 WRITERS support group, put up lots of free publishing and writing guides, promoted lots of authors and illustrators on my website, introduced many of them to publishers. And now this is the big one: I am sharing the submission contact email for Penguin Random House SEA. It may not be easily available for a while, so save this photo quick.

If you’ve been writing a lot already, go organise your stuff and send it in. Tell your friends and family, if they aspire to be published authors too. You may say that you were recommended by Don Bosco. I wish you all happy writing, and super sweet success. GO! GO! GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!


— D

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Are you a writer too?

Available in paperback late-2019

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

100 WRITERS _____ Keep writing, always remember why young readers need new books from us

NOTE: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS community project. Learn more about it here.

Why should we make new books for young readers?

I’ve been asking myself this question for seven years.

It started when my two sons were old enough to enjoy going to the public library every weekend.

We’d spend hours discussing all the books that they enjoyed.

But we also discussed the books that they could never discover, no matter how hard they looked. Books that had yet to be created. For all sorts of reasons. See: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

And so, to fill this gap, we started creating our own books, mystery and adventure stories featuring Asian characters.

My sons and I wrote the stories together, illustrated them, and self-published our paperbacks. Which we managed to sell to our public libraries.

Eventually we were approached by local publishers who wanted to make books with us.

This whole experience has helped me feel the intellectual, emotional and social needs of my kids, when they go looking for books to read.

Here are three big reasons why I think our work matters. Keep writing from your heart.

#1: Kids dig the wordplay

More important than playing with toys or apps, is the ability to play with language.

We use puns, rhythms, the musicality of sentences, jokes, onomatopoeia, metaphors, all these and more, to show young readers what a wonderful resource we’ve inherited, and how we can create wonderful new worlds for ourselves with the artful use of language.

The more widely we read, the richer our sense of language, the more we can zoom, swoosh and whizzabapow our way through life.

Each time we graft one breathtaking meme onto another, and forge delightful new expressions, we’re reminding young readers how language is a treasure chest of never ending delights.

#2: Inspire affection for humanity

In our books, there will be nice people, but also selfish people, artists, philistines, heroes, cowards, heroes who believe they are cowards, cowards who think they are heroes, kings, queens, tyrants, saints, outcasts, selfish people, generous people, loving people, unlovable people, and many more.

Just as it is in the world out there.

Our books help kids appreciate their real life encounters so much more, because they have already spent time with similar characters in their favourite stories.

Illustrators are especially essential here. Animals, appliances, even odd and random shapes — a few talented strokes can bring these to life, as avatars of different states of human consciousness.

Our books show kids that bullies need standing up to. But sometimes they need a kind hug too.

#3: We offer companionship

Every book is a transfusion of creativity, craft and companionship, from writers, illustrators, editors, booksellers, and so on, the whole publishing ecosystem, to the young readers.

Kids experience this in every page that they turn.

They can sense the deep and timeless intention to connect and reassure.

In particular, they want to be reassured about the mysterious unfolding of life around them.

They want to know that the poor little one can turn out okay.

It’s what makes these stories such classics: The Ugly Duckling, Cinderella, David and Goliath.

Our books remind kids to see not just with their eyes, but also with their hearts.

I still lie awake at night, thinking up new ideas for making books for kids.

Wondering if there’s a child somewhere out there, lying in bed and hoping to find these same books.

A child who might grow up to make some pretty amazing books too. And keep the tradition going.

Wow, we are superheroes, we must be, to be part of something so epic.

— D

. . . . . . . . . .

Signed up for my Today at Apple session?

Thrills! Laughs! Scares! Mysteries to be solved!
This exciting new series has them all

Saturday, June 9, 2018

TOY MYSTERY _____ Join us for this coming Today At Apple session, at Apple Orchard Road, we'll make cool pixel art together

NOTE: This post is about our TOY MYSTERY gamebook seriesAll pixel art featured here by Super Cool Books.

Super cool surprise, we'll be doing a Today At Apple workshop session this coming week.

Last year, you see, we experimented with making gamebooks. These are stories where you get to choose what happens next. Our first prototype was the Toy Mystery series. And Book One was The Secret of the Chatter Blocks. It involved combining storytelling with a bit of computer programming and also some character design. Read about the whole process here.

We knew it was important to have a signature look for this. Something that was bright, inspiring, familiar yet fresh. After some weeks of experimenting, we settled on this pixel art style. And then we used it to create characters, story settings, and mockups for the book cover.

Among other things, The Secret of the Chatter Blocks was mentioned on Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling update. And you can still download the e-book free here. Do try it and let us know if you have any thoughts about developing it further. We'd love to hear from you.

Thanks to Apple, you can have fun with pixel art too. Sign up details below. Join us, we'll create some cool story ideas together.

— D


Kids Hour: Creating Pixel Art with Don Bosco
Friday, 15 June

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Apple Orchard Road

Join Singaporean author Don Bosco with your family and dive into the world of 8-bit illustration for children’s books. He’ll share what makes a good story drawing, and demonstrate the basics of pixel art. Then you’ll get creative with iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and the Procreate app, designing characters and a unique cover for your own storybook world. Recommended for kids aged 5 to 12.

270 Orchard Road

Singapore 238857


. . . . . . . . . .

I say, have you collected 

MY BLADE QUEST is about two very special kids
and their amazing adventure around the world.