moving to a new domain.

I started The Munchkin Wrangler when I was a new dad. That was ten years ago and very much a different life. We lived in a different house, city, and state. We only had one child, and I was just getting started with this crazy pipe dream of maybe getting my foot in the door of this writing business.

Ten years later, the world has moved on, the munchkins aren’t so little anymore, and the full-time parenting is no longer my main occupation. I think the time has come to retire the Munchkin Wrangler and change things over to a slightly more businesslike domain. As such, further embloggenings and updates will occur at the new domain, which is If you want to continue following my scribblings, please update your bookmarks accordingly. (All the old posts and comments have been ported over to the new blog for continuity.)

bow & arrow.

Back when I went to community college in Tennessee, I took archery as one of my P.E. classes, and found that I really enjoyed it. Ever since then, I had plans to get a bow of my own and shoot it regularly, but we didn’t have the space in Tennessee, and other priorities got in the way after we moved to New Hampshire.

Last year I finally bought a decent bow and ancillary equipment, and started flinging arrows again. It’s a recurve bow with no added equipment–no sights, fancy arrow rest, or bow-mounted quiver. I like the low-tech aspect of it, and it’s more of a challenge to get good with what’s essentially just a length of springy wood and a string.

I often take it out when I’m waiting for the school bus, and shoot at the orange bag at various distances. I try to empty the twelve-arrow quiver three or four times before the bus drops the kids off at the bottom of our driveway. It’s interesting just how precisely you can shoot an arrow off a fairly simple bow with a little bit of practice. And archery is one of the sports where you can see rapid improvement with frequent practice. I’ll notice when I haven’t shot a bow for a few weeks–the arrows tend to go a little wider than usual–but get back to it for a day or three, and you can pop that bag eleven out of twelve times at 30 yards and feel like some bad-ass middle-aged Robin Hood again.


First session after a month and a half without any practice. Half an hour later, they were all reliably in the bag again.


The Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard that ships with new Macs is very sleek and stylish, but it doesn’t stand up to hard typing. It has minimal key travel, lacks a Delete key, and the tactile feedback is so-so at best. For checking Facebook and writing emails, it’s OK, but folks who have to drum out thousands of words a day need something a little more industrial.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the old IBM Model M, the clicky battleship-grade keyboards from the 1990s. I still have three or four of the old things, and all of them are working. With every passing year, however, it gets more difficult to make them work with modern PCs. Not only do they require PS/2 adapters, but they also draw a lot of power through the USB port, and most PS/2-to-USB adapters will not work with a Model M correctly. Also, using them with a Mac requires remapping of the Control, Alt, and Option keys, which are backwards on a Mac, so that’s a bit of a hassle. {Also, the Model M has the old PC standard Ctrl and Alt keys, whereas the Mac has Control, Option, and Command keys, which means you’re always one modifier key short when you use a Model M with a Mac.)

Until now, I haven’t really come across a good up-to-date replacement for the Model M. I’ve tried a bunch of mechanical keyboards made for gaming, but they’re a bit too bulky and specialized, and not really made with lots of heavy typing in mind. They have lots of superfluous features and usually take up about as much desk space as a family-sized pizza. The ones I found that were less frilly didn’t quite have the right feel to the keys. None of them had a clean design and the satisfying clicky action of the old Model M.

And then I found this one:

WP 20140708 14 39 47 Pro

Typist Nirvana, now in glossy piano black.

That’s the Das Keyboard, specifically the Professional Model S for the Mac. They also make a PC version, and a stealth model with no lettering on the keycaps for you touch-typist show-offs.

Yeah, it’s pretty pricy, but for a writer, it’s the main interface with the PC and by far the hardest-used part of the whole system. It makes no sense to save on this particular part of the machine.

The Das Keyboard has Cherry MX Blue key switches, not the expensive-to-make buckling springs of the original model M, but they have the same sort of satisfying clicky sound and tactile feedback. 

Typing on this thing is an absolute pleasure, it looks good, and it works with any system that has USB ports. There are two USB ports on the side for thumb drives and mouse dongles and such, and it’s refreshingly Spartan in design—no neon lights, rows of Macro keys, volume wheels, or built-in laser projector and weather station. Just a glossy black chassis with the standard key layout, and that’s it. 

It’s not a gaming keyboard, and it has no other frills. (The key caps aren’t even illuminated, which seems to be a standard feature on high-end keyboards these days.) The Cherry MX Blue switches are not quite as noisy as the buckling springs on the Model M, but they still make enough of a racket that you’ll keep your spouse or roommate up if you use the keyboard anywhere near the bedroom. But for hard typing, there’s nothing better on the market right now. Plus, you know, it has a German article in front of “keyboard” which automatically imbues it with Teutonic engineering mojo.

If you type a lot, and you can’t stand the shitty $10 that came with your computer (or the $50 picture-of-a-keyboard they ship with macs these days), do your hands a favor and look into one of these. They’re the closest you’ll get to the old Model M clicky monsters without requiring any adapter voodoo or eBay adventures. The Das Keyboard Professional Model S gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from the Munchkin Wrangler Gear Whore Labs.

new paperless typewriter.


That’s the new word-banger-outer here in the Castle Frostbite Novel Factory, a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display. (I usually work longhand and then transcribe stuff every chapter or so, but the current deadline means that I have to skip a step and write straight on the computer.)

I had a MacBook Air last year, but I sold it to a friend. It was a perfectly cromulent machine, and shared many of the great properties of its successor, but it was a little too thin for me. In particular, the keyboard on the Air is slightly but noticeably more shallow than that on the Pro because there’s less vertical space for key travel, and with my typing style, I tendedtomissthespacebaralot. The new one doesn’t have that issue for me, and it has that fabulous Retina display.

I keep using Mac portables because they offer me a few things that Windows laptops (even the nicest ones) don’t:

  • I like the design and the hardware, especially the great keyboards, and the glass trackpad is simply the best in the industry by a fair margin. The friction is just right, it’s easy to clean off, and all the gestures just work. I’ve never used a Windows laptop with a trackpad that comes even close to those on the MacBook Pros and Airs.
  • I run Scrivener, and the Mac version of Scrivener is one version number ahead of the Windows version. It’s not a great feature disparity, but enough to make me pony up the Mac premium. (For example, Mac Scrivener lets you write toward a deadline and keeps a running word count that calculates your daily quota to meet that deadline. Small thing, but something I use all the time.)
  • Macs hold their value better and have a longer usable service life. I replace PCs in about half the time I get out of my Macs.
  • I think Mac OS X is still better than Windows, and it won’t run on anything but a Mac,of course. In addition, I can run both MacOS and Windows on a MacBook Pro via Boot Camp, which makes it more flexible than a Windows laptop.

I have to say that this MacBook Pro is seriously the nicest piece of computing hardware I’ve ever owned. The Retina screen is just pin-sharp, and there’s a major difference in quality between it and a non-retina display. Text looks like it’s been painted on with an ink brush, no visible pixellation at all in any resolution. Combine that with the far better text anti-aliasing of MacOS vs. that of Windows, and there’s simply no comparison when it comes to the way text looks on screen. When you spend hours and hours looking at words on a screen, stuff like that becomes a compelling factor for purchasing decisions.

The battery life is insane. Apple specifies “over 9 hours” for the battery, but with the brightness dialed down to 50-60% and just word processing going on, it routinely clocks 11-12 hours. That’s nuts for a pro-level machine with a Core i5. It’s just the perfect blend of power, portability, endurance, screen size, and hardware build quality, and I’m quite glad I decided to pick one up.

(Quick hardware census from the Super-Secret Writing Retreat: two of us with MacBook Pros, and five with Windows laptops of various brands. Two of those five PCs were Lenovo ThinkPads, which are really nice machines and probably the brand I would buy if I couldn’t get my hands on a MacBook Pro. Great keyboards, and they managed to retain that distinctive “bento box” square black design from the IBM days.)

The hard drive in the background is a LaCie Porsche Design 2TB USB 3.0 for TimeMachine backups and media stuff. Thunderbolt drives are a smidgen faster, but two to three times as expensive, and I don’t need the extra little bit of speed for incremental TimeMachine backups.

So there you have it: I’m not an Apple fanboi. I am an informed consumer with particular preferences.

how do you say “feng shui” in danish?

Three of the most dangerous words in the English language: “Legitimate tax write-off.”


We took some time to redo the office in the back of the house last weekend.

I’ve been using the standing desk I got at the Borders going-out-of-business fire sale two and a half years ago, and it works just fine as a computer workstation, but it’s not the best work desk, at least not for my purposes. I write longhand a lot and then transcribe into the computer, so I need quite a bit of elbow room. In the past, that meant I had to do a lot of moving around between two different desks, one for handwriting and one for computer stuff.

Well, thanks to amazing Danish office technology, now I can do both at the same desk. I got an adjustable standing desk from ErgoDepot. It has a lot of working surface (it’s an L-shaped table top that’s roughly six by four feet on the long sides), and it moves up and down at the push of a button via electric motor. You can move it as low as 25″ and as high as 47″. Now I can set the desk to fit the task at hand, not the other way around.

And man, just look at that thing, with the spotlights above lighting up the work surface. It looks like it’s straight out of a goddamn IKEA catalog*. It looks like the space of a hip, professional writer dude who totally knows what he’s doing. In other words, the space of someone who isn’t me. But think about how much easier it will be for me to fake competence now.

*It’s not Ikea. I know this because the instructions were crystal-clear and it only took me twenty minutes to put the thing together.



daddy used nintendo 2ds. it’s super effective!

How do you glue a first-grader to the couch? You give her a Nintendo 2DS for Christmas:


She hasn’t moved from that spot since yesterday morning.

We had a low-key Christmas here at Castle Frostbite. No house guests, just the four of us and the doggens. We had our traditional Christmas feast of Surf & Turf (lobster and venison steaks), and pretty much fritzed the day away with eating, drinking, playing computer games, and listening to Christmas music. It was perfectly relaxing.

With the kids at home until the new year, I’m taking the week mostly off from work to tackle Mount Unfolded Laundry and tend various overdue projects around the house. We’ll see if I can keep myself from any serious writing productivity until the end of next week.

Speaking of writing, here’s another Buzzfeed list I’m in:

12 Science Fiction books to look forward to in January

I’m pretty excited about LINES OF DEPARTURE, which has turned out extremely well (and which has been rather effusively praised by just about everyone who has read it already.) I can’t wait until you can all get your hands on it—and this time in paperback and audio. MY NOVEL HAS ASSUMED PHYSICAL FORM. <insert sinister, semi-hysterical laughter>

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT will see a new release at that time as well, with a matching new cover and in the same formats. If you’re asking yourself whether to drop the money on the new version: it has a rewritten Chapter 23, new cover art, and numerous smaller edits, corrections, and improvements. Because it’s a 47North book now, I wasn’t able to roll all those changes into the old version that people purchased already, as my publisher considers the new version a Director’s Cut, so to speak. But hey—they paid a lot of people to make a lot of improvements to the book, so I think it’s a justified position. Rest assured that if you choose not to buy the new version of TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, you won’t miss anything essential.

Anyway, enough post-Christmas self-promotion. I’m just really excited about this new “making a living by making up stuff” thing, and I want to keep that racket going for as long as I can. Hope you all had a great Christmas and happy holidays, and stay tuned for all the stuff coming out of the Castle Frostbite Magic Daycare & Novel Factory in 2014.


I think I just found a worthy new contender for the top of my “Cars to Buy When I Have Fuck-You Money” list: the new Jaguar F-type R coupe. (Sorry, Aston Martin DBS V12.)

By Odin, that thing sounds insane.

in which I incur the wrath of steve’s ghost.

In today’s installment of the Munchkin Wrangler Gear Whore Labs reviews, I will share with you my opinion of the Microsoft Surface.

I have a new review policy in place. All items I review in this spot—books, toys, gear, whatever—are paid for by my own cash, not provided to me by someone else. And I don’t review anything until I’ve had a chance to use it on a regular basis for at least a month, preferably two, so the starry-eyed new toy phase doesn’t taint the review.

So two months ago, I decided to take advantage of the deep discount on the Surface tablets right before the new version came out, and purchased a Surface RT 32GB. I’ve been using it every day since then, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, especially compared to the iPad (of which we own four at last count—an iPad 3, an original iPad, a WiFi iPad mini, and an LTE iPad mini.) I’ve been a big iPad fan ever since Robin brought home that original model three years ago, which still serves very well as a beater unit for the kids. Robin and I both also own iPhones (hers a 4S and mine a 5), and I also have a MacBook Air, so we’re quite heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem.

That said, <DRAMATIC DRUMROLL>, I’ve come to the conclusion that (for me, at least) the Microsoft Surface is a better tablet than the iPad.

<insert the shocked, sharp collective drawing-in of breath in the audience>

I thought it was neat in the store, which is why I decided to risk $349 on it, seeing how I could have returned it within 30 days anyway if I ended up hating it. But I really didn’t appreciate its strong points until I used it regularly for a few weeks.

The main selling point for me that the Surface RT comes with a full version of Microsoft Office 2013. Love it or hate it, Office is pretty much the standard in the publishing industry, and after hitting a few bumps during the hot-and-heavy editing phases of TERMS OF ENLISTMENT and LINES OF DEPARTURE, I decided that I needed a cheap-ish mobile system for edits on the run that was 100% compatible with the .DOCX files I get marked up by my editors. The Surface has proven just the right pick for the job—lightweight, reasonably cheap, long battery life, flexible to use, and very compatible. But there’s a lot more to like about the thing, especially when compared to the iPad, and particularly when it comes to productivity use.


That’s the Surface, clad in a leatherette case, with a Logitech illuminated Bluetooth keyboard behind it. I use the Surface without the keyboard 90% of the time and only need the BT ‘board for longer typing jobs, which is why I didn’t see the need for buying either the Touch or Type Covers that Microsoft sells along with the Surface.

The hardware is extremely well thought-out. You can tell that the people who came up with the design didn’t just want to do a “me too” iPad clone, but rather went their own way. Some of the hardware features I really like:

–Built-in kickstand. Simple concept that makes a great difference. The stand is built into the back of the unit and flips out in far less time than it takes for any case origami.

–Sturdy construction. The case and screen feel like you’d have to drop a car battery on them to do any damage. It’s as pleasant to hold and use as the iPad, only in a different, more industrial sort of way.

–Full-sized USB port. Not only can I plug in USB peripherals, I can plug in anything that works on my Windows 8 desktop system. External mice, keyboards, hard drives, DVD drives, memory sticks, WiFi dongles…it all works. If the device has a driver in the Windows driver database, it works on the Surface. That is sort of a Big Deal.

–Wide-aspect screen. Seems weird for a tablet at first, but now the iPad screen looks too tall and square to me. It’s much like back when we switched from 4:3 aspect LCDs to 16:9 widescreens for our desktops. After you’re used to the wide aspect, the other aspect ratio just looks all wrong. Movies play without letterboxing, and text takes up narrower and easier to read columns in portrait mode. (Interestingly, I use the iPad almost exclusively in portrait mode, and the Surface almost exclusively in landscape mode.)

–SDHC memory card slot. Unlimited, infinitely expandable storage! I expanded the internal 32GB with a 64GB SDHC card. So handy to just be able to copy, say, a movie from the desktop to the Surface via SDHC card without having through that Convert-‘n-Sync-via-iTunes routine on the iPad.

The Surface beats my MacBook Air in battery life and portability while allowing pretty much the same capabilities at least as far as I use both devices. It runs Office natively, lasts eight hours on the battery, can use any USB PC peripheral I have around the house, and can use ubiquitous SDHC cards for internal storage expansion and file transfer. All that for $349? Sign me up.

(Yes, I know you can get budget Windows laptops for the same money, but those don’t run cool and silent for eight hours on one charge, and they don’t come pre-loaded with Office 2013 either.)

I’ve come to equally appreciate the software, which is Windows 8.1 RT. It’s visually and functionally the same as 8.1 on the desktop, with the exception that it can’t run Windows legacy apps. (Its more expensive cousin, the Surface Pro, can do that, but more on that later.) The much-maligned new Metro interface of Windows 8 makes little sense on a keyboard-and-mouse driven system, but on a touchscreen, it’s very good. In many respects, it makes iOS look a bit dated in comparison. The touch gestures come so naturally after a while that I get annoyed whenever I pick up my iPad these days and try to do the Windows 8 swipe gestures. It’s much easier to task-switch in Windows 8 (swipe in from the left; pick from the list of open apps) than in iOS (double-click the home button, flick-scroll through your list of open apps). Closing an app in Win 8? Swipe down from the top of the screen, flick it down off the bottom of the screen. Closing an app in iOS? Double-click the home button, flick-scroll through your open apps until you find the one you want to close, flick it up off the screen to close. After using both operating systems for two months side-by-side, I’ve come to prefer the Win 8 gestures.

And Internet Explorer on Windows RT? Full Flash support. Everything plays in the browser without codec issues.

Oh, and how about multi-tasking? Here’s the Surface running two apps side by side in split-screen mode:


That’s Internet Explorer on the left, Word 2013 in desktop mode on the right. I can write stuff up and have the research and reference material right next to my work. No big deal on a desktop system, but not an option on the iPad.

And not only can you split the screen, you can adjust the split:


Word 2013 on the left, Twitter on the right. You can make one or the other minimize and give the remaining app the full screen back just by pushing that divider over all the way to the left or right. For productivity, it makes a huge difference, and it’s definitely the feature I miss most when I use the iPad.

For media consumption, the iPad is still the top dog, and the application variety is much greater for iOS. For getting stuff done, however, the Surface runs circles around the iPad.

Are there things I don’t like? Of course there are. No device is perfect. Stuff I dislike about the Surface:

–The magnetic power plug is way too hard to line up and connect. On my MacBook Air, it snaps in when you just move the plug into the vicinity of the jack. On the Surface, you have to line the plug up very carefully and rock it into place, and the feeble magnet only pulls it into place when you’re just about all the way into the socket already anyway. NEEDS REDESIGN.

–The app variety is paltry compared to Apple’s iOS, which had a two-year head start. But it has Office 2013, which is a big advantage for us publishing types.

–There aren’t very many accessories available for the Surface. I had to get a leatherette case off Amazon because none of the local big-box stores carry a damn thing for the Surface other than the (too expensive) Microsoft Touch and Type covers.

–It’s too easy to leave lying around, say, in the bathroom, where your wife may come across it, play with it, and want her own.

Yep…Robin looked at the Surface RT for a little while, and when I told her that the Pro version would run all her legacy Windows apps, she went out and got a Surface Pro 2 for herself. Now she has a tablet that runs Scrivener, Office, and World of Warcraft, with the same portability as her iPad 3, and with the ability to use her specialized PC peripherals. (She plays with one of those mega-multibutton mice because she can’t use both mouse and keyboard simultaneously due to physical restrictions.)

Now, I’m not slamming the iPad here, which is a fine device and still the top dog when it comes to media consumption and general variety and quality of apps. But for us, the Surface has proven a surprisingly capable machine with its own set of strong points that the iPad can’t match. It fits my day-to-day needs for mobile computing so well that I’ve barely touched the iPad or the MacBook Air since I got the Surface. I have to give credit to Microsoft for coming up with something decidedly different from the iPad and even *GASP* innovating along the way. I’m happy with the RT over the Pro right now because it runs cooler and more quietly with longer battery life and quicker startups, but it’s already filling almost all my day-to-day computing needs as it is.

Now I need to come up with some star system that isn’t bullshit. Whatever the scale, however, I’m leaning toward giving the Surface a really good rating on that scale. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good, and it works for me.

puppy play.


Henry and Ygraine doing what they do most of the day. (Ignore the messy floor, which I’ve TOTALLY PICKED UP since then.)

This fiber-optic connection kicks ass. That was a 153MB video straight from the iPhone, and it uploaded to YouTube in a minute or so. 50Mbps download speed is very nice, but 25Mbps on the upload makes a great many online tasks a great deal shorter.