Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Rudy Rucker, Sr.

Rudy Rucker, Sr.

Writer, developer, painter, podcaster

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a writer and a painter, and I spend a lot of time online promoting myself, building my brand, expressing myself, connecting with friends, whatever. I maintain a large website which includes a blog, a number of webpages relating to my individual books, and I have a painting page as well. I also post a number of podcasts. I self-publish some of my books and I have a separate website for this: Transreal Books. And I take a lot of photos, many of which I post on my blog.

What hardware do you use?

I run Windows 7 on my computers. I have a honking big desktop machine with a pair of RAID drives and not enough RAM (12 gigs). My son Rudy Jr. built the machine for me six years ago. My monitor is for shit, it's over ten years old, it's a ViewSonic, a VP191B, it used to be considered good. It's in the old-school 4 x 3 aspect ratio, which I prefer. I turn the monitor so it's a vertical rectangle like a sheet of paper. I use a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard, and I have a trackball on the left and a mouse on the right.

I've used ThinkPad laptops for many, many years, I've gone through about four of them. I like their keyboards, and I like that they're black. Just last week I got a new one, an X250 with a touch screen, and all solid state memory. I don't like the 16 x 9 aspect ratio, it's like a frikkin' letter slot. In my opinion that ratio is for people who mainly use their laptop for watching videos - as opposed to writing novels. But I'm making the display work for by using narrow margins in my documents­ - which makes for longer lines. And I've reduced the spacing between lines - in Word, you can tell it to put 1.4 spaces between lines, as opposed to double space, single space, or one and a half space.

I'd been telling myself that this time I'd get a MacBook Pro, or Air, or the new plain MacBook. I like the keyboard on the MacBook Pro a lot, but not on the thinner ones. But in the end I didn't make the change. Maybe I feel like I'm giving Apple enough by using an iPhone. I could get into the whole Apple vs. Microsoft "religious war" here, but that's a tired topic.

If I ever do get a MacBook Pro I'd probably run Windows on it so I can use my existing software. I have a lot of the Windows moves pretty well taped down into my muscle memory, so for me the system is very easy to use. And I like the intricate fractal structure of the Windows options. For several years I taught Windows programming with Visual Studio C++ at San Jose State, so I feel safe in that OS. I know what's under the hood.

For regular printing I have an HP LaserJet P2055dn, which works great, I love it, except that the printer cartridges cost about $100. Basically when you buy a cartridge you're buying a printer. The printer on my desk is really just a docking station for the cartridges.

For printing color prints of my paintings, I have a Canon Pro9500 Mark II, which is a very fussy and demanding machine. Very hard to get a good print out of it - I've finally learned to print from Adobe Photoshop, to use the "Photoshop Manages Colors" option, and to use the "Absolute Colorimetric" option. If I don't do those last two things, the prints look like shit, and I'm burning through the ten incredibly expensive and tiny little bottles of varicolored Canon ink, and I'm using up my incredibly expensive heavy-duty Canon art print paper. I always forget how to use that printer, as I only make prints about once per year, like when I have an art show. And each time it's printing day, I make about ten crappy prints before I home in on some workable right settings.

For painting, I use oil on canvas. I buy prestretched canvases. I use Galkyd as my medium for the paint, and use Galkyd gel to get impasto. My studio is a plastic table and chair in my backyard which works as it's usually sunny in California. Simple. No computers.

I've been shooting photos for about 55 years, and I've had a lot of cameras. The best camera I ever had was a Leica M5 I got second-hand from a photo-journalist, and like an idiot I then traded it for a cruddy Leica R3­ - this was forty years ago, and I still grieve. I'll never be rich enough to own an M-series Leica again, and really they're so overpriced nowadays. Just recently, however, I got a nice old-school-look camera, it's a Fujifilm X100T­ - despite the name it's a digital camera. I love it. It's too big to be a pocket digital camera, but it's got real presence in terms of the images it captures. Like the Leica has.

The reason I got the Fujifilm was because it's a fixed-lens compact - no zoom. I've had about four or maybe five pocket zoom-lens digital cameras, like a Canon S90 and an S100, and more recently a Sony RX100, and every frikkin' one of these cameras died in the same way: the zoom lens started jamming, and then the only fix is buying a new lens assembly - I know that people online will tell you, "Oh, just pound it on your desk and it'll start working again," but that's complete bullshit, at least in my experience. A new lens assembly costs close to $200, which is iffy, given that the camera costs maybe $500 or, if it's an RX100, $700. Actually I really liked my Sony RX100 so I did shell out for the new lens, but I want to "teach it a lesson." So I'm hanging with my hot new Fujifilm shooter instead. Take that, RX100.

I have a heavy-duty Canon 5D Mark I that I've been using for about fifteen years. It's way too heavy to carry around all the time, although of course it does take the best photos by far. The main thing I use it for is getting good photos of my paintings. I use the images for my online painting page, of course, but more crucially, I use the images for prints, and for the illustrations in my paintings book Better Worlds, which I revise every year or two.

I have a pocket-sized Sony audio recorder for taping my talks, it's an SX733. And then I put the talks online as podcasts - although the whole concept of podcasts still kind of eludes me. I mean really what I do is post a downloadable / streamable MP3 audio file online and claim its a podcast. The microphone in a pocket audio recorder is of course for shit, and the cheap $50 Sony plug-in microphone isn't much better, so now I got a heavy Sony Electret mike that has a battery in it. It's an ECM44b, and I had to buy a Kopul LMT-100 converter so I can plug it into the tiny pocket recorder. The Electret mike gives me much better sound. Pro quality.

So that's the hardware situation around here.

And what software?

I've used Microsoft Word for about thirty years and, like with Windows, the commands are all in muscle memory. And I frikkin' hate it when a command changes or, worse, when a new computer has the keys arranged in a different way. I've written a few macros to simplify tasks, but basically it's just straight Word. When my writing is going well, the words flow down out of my brain, through my fingers, through the keyboard onto my screen, and there's no conscious awareness of the interface.

Browser? Firefox. Email? Thunderbird.

For visual things I have Adobe CS6 products that I own. I plan never ever to go up to the Adobe rent-as-you-go package, for me CS 6 was the end of the line. I got a wholesale price on the software as I had a former student of mine working at Adobe for awhile, and he'd become a friend. I use Lightroom, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and InDesign.

Lightroom is great for maintaining my photo library and doing lightweight image tweaks. When I really to bear down on an image, like for a book cover, I go over to Photoshop. Dreamweaver is my web design tool, the one problem is that it lugs/lags if I have a superbig HTML file that I'm tweaking. Sometimes I'll just dump a single giant book, like my Complete Stories, into a single giant web page for free online reading.

I got into self-publishing about three years ago - I'd published about forty books with "real" publishers, but then they decided I wasn't earning enough for them, and they dropped me. I fell off the long tail. But I didn't want to shut up. So I started doing my own books as ebooks and as print books. For print, I upload a PDF of the book to CreateSpace at Amazon and maybe to Lightning Books as well, and they print the books as people order them.

Even though I'm an emeritus professor of computer science, it was really hard to learn how to make ebooks and print books. So many gotchas. I've worked with Sigil (which is still good even though it's not the same person maintaining it), Calibre, and especially with InDesign. I now have a workflow where I'll write the book in Word, import that into InDesign, tweak it so it looks like a real printed book, export a PDF for the paperback and maybe hardback versions. And then I can also export an EPUB from InDesign, and I can use Calibre to turn that into a MOBI for Amazon. Now and then I use Sigil to tweak something in the EPUB.

I sell my ebooks via Amazon mostly, but I also sell them direct using a product called E-Junkie, and I list them as Nook books on B&N, and maybe on Apple iBooks, but those last two channels are kind of a "why bother" thing. It's all about Amazon ebooks. And with my direct E-Junkie sales of MOBI / EPUB ebooks, I can satisfy those who'd rather not buy from Amazon.

What would be your dream setup?

To barely use a computer at all. Just paint, and read paper books, and write novels in Word, and have sycophantic, well-paying agents and publishers take care of the rest of it. Bring me meals, get me speaking gigs, send me and my wife on vacations.

In closing, I'll put in a plug for my latest book, an 820 page tome called Journals 1990-2014.