Category Archives: Writing Tools

Cloud Computing, Part 1

Cloud Computing Is Everything The Personal Computer Was Created To Get Around

The internet says “Information Wants To Be Free.” Which Is Why The PC Was Invented In The First Place

Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

Part One

Once upon a time, there was a mean old ogre called Big Data, or BD for short. This mean ogre lived in a special valley and owned everybody’s information and charged people to actually use their own data! Bad, bad BD!

They could get away with this because personal computers–or PCs–didn’t exist! So people had no choice. They had to keep giving their money to BD in order to simply have a place to keep their own information!

As you might expect, the people who lived in the valley with the ogre soon grew tired of paying tribute to BD and looked at alternatives. After a great deal of thought, they decided that what gave BD his power was his Huge, Monstrous, Gigantic COMPUTER!

“Listen,” they said. “What if we had a computer? And not just another H.H.G.C., no no no! But one small enough that we could each own one!¹”

So the people got to work. This was probably the biggest convocation of nerds and geeks before or since. Engineers, computer programmers, electronic technicians, dreamers–you name it, they were all involved.

Anyway, their efforts led to the invention of the personal computer. Or rather, personal computers. But that’s a story for a different day.

The Return Of Big Data

Over time, as the PC became a standard tool in corporate offices all over the world, and as it evolved into forms the original inventors could only dream of, a change came over it. The original makers evolved–some would say “devolved”–and started thinking to themselves,² “You know what would be cool–and make us even more fabulously richer than we already are? Let’s stop selling software! Instead, since we’re only selling them a license to use the software, why don’t we put the software on our mainframe and charge our customers to use it annually? We’ll still be making money, and we’ll cut out the expense of CDs, DVDs, printed manuals, etc. We’ll make a killing!”

Thus it was that in the far-off city of Redmond, Washington, Big Data was reborn. Under the new scheme, you would still own your own data, and it even still resided there on your local machine, but the tools you needed to use it were back in the hands of BD.

And that, boys and girls, is how the very people who liberated you from the clutches of the Big Data ogre (BDO) becomes themselves, locking your data away unless you paid them money.³

NOTES:

¹This was their conversation, recorded word for word. I know, because I was hiding behind the sofa while they were talking.

²Same thing here. This time I was hiding in the luggage compartment of a corporate jet.

³ This is an oversimplification of the philosophy behind the development and evolution of the modern personal computer. For more juicy details, I recommend “Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer (Second Edition).” DISCLAIMER: This link takes you to Amazon which sells the book. I receive no financial benefit from it, so I don’t care whether you buy it or not. Maybe your local library has a copy. Mine doesn’t, even though I live in Rochester, NY, home of some rather interesting technology itself: Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Xerox among them.

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Personal Computers, Uncategorized, Writing Tools

New Writing Tools

I write. A lot. It doesn’t matter where or when, if I have a few free minutes, I write. At the doctor’s office. On the bus. Sometimes when I’m grocery shopping, an idea will strike me and I’ll whip out my iPhone and write it down.

My iPhone is my main writing tool because I always have it with me. Well, not always—I don’t take it into the bathroom. But other than that, everywhere else. It’s small, handy, and it doesn’t take up much room in my purse.

About the only thing I don’t write with it is blog posts: I find it too limiting. But I will write a post in another app, then copy and paste it into my laptop, then transfer it into Open Live Writer (OLW),  my blogging tool of choice.

I first discovered OLW when Microsoft created it and made it available for free. Since then, Microsoft has abandoned it and turned it over to the free software community, which continues to support and improve it. The latest release is dated 23 May 2017, so it’s not updated all that often.

My Writing Toolbox

While I do most of my writing on my iPhone and iPad, there are three desktop programs I use as well. In addition to OLW, I also have Scrivener and Papyrus Author.

I’ve had Scrivener for a couple of years, but I rarely use it. I just found the learning curve too steep for my poor little brain.

I downloaded Papyrus Author (PA) last month out of curiosity, and have been playing around with it since then. It seems to do everything Scrivener does, but without the learning curve.

Besides, the basic version is free. If I decide to keep it, I’ll probably upgrade to the Pro version, which has several style analysis tools not offered in the basic version.

On the other hand, I have Grammarly Premium, so I might not need to upgrade after all.

I also have the free Grammarly keyboard on both of my mobile devices. The keyboard is free and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store.

Both Papyrus Author and Scrivener are designed for heavy-duty, serious writing, and I can recommend both of them. Grammarly is like having a style manual at your fingertips.

Ulysses

I used to use Ulysses on my mobiles, but recently deleted it, because I wanted a tool I could use on all three of my machines, and Ulysses is only available for iOS and MacOS. Not Windows. But if you’ve got a Mac, give it a try.

Summing Up

That’s it for my laptop. In my next post, I’ll cover what I use on my iPhone and iPad.

Until then, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogging Tools, My Writng Toolbox, Papyrus Author, scrivener, Writing Tools

AlphaSmart Neo: Further Considerations

As with everything else new, there’s a learning curve. Fortunately, with the AlphaSmart Neo, it’s not very steep.

At first I was concerned about being able to add special characters and symbols, such as é, î, or even ™ or ©.

Already taken care of! The Neo was, after all, designed to be used in educational settings, so it was part of the original design. Pressing CTRL-H brings up a help screen, including both International and Greek/Symbols key combinations.

For example, typing OPTION E then E results in “é.” For me, this is more than a mere option: without this feature, I wouldn’t be able to type my middle name, “Sinéad” (Irish for “Jane.”

Another blessing is the lack of both auto-complete and auto-check abilities: on both my iPad and iPhone I was constantly having to go back and correct “myself” to “my” because both devices thought they knew better than me.

Still, I will admit that at times I miss the onscreen suggestions of words I can pick to insert. But it’s definitely not a deal-breaker.

Things I Miss

Being able to insert pictures and images. Then again, being able to go on the Internet and searching for anything would defeat the goal of distraction-free writing, so I simply wait until I’ve transferred the files to my laptop to do that.

The ability to use italics, bold-face, or otherwise format my text. Again, I leave that up to the laptop.

I’d like to be able to set the auto-off time to something other than 4 minutes (the default) but that’s the lowest it can go (the maximum is 59 minutes). I’m obsessed with saving battery power—but since 3 AA batteries will last for 700 minutes of use—I can get used to it. And if I’m going to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea, I can simply shut the Neo off. It’s an acceptable trade-off,since sometimes I’ll stare out the window for a minute or two whilst I gather my thoughts. After all, we writers are always writing, even when we’re staring off into space.

Besides, one simply cannot write without a decent cup of tea to hand.

My Workflow

Even though I’ve only had my Neo since last Wednesday, I’ve already figured out a workflow that suits me: Once I’ve transferred a file from the Neo to my laptop (and backed it up as well), I open the file on the Neo and select the Clear File function. When prompted, I select Y (for yes), and it’s gone, freeing up that space for a new file.

That’s pretty much it for now. As always, as I learn or discover more I’ll share it with you right here. Oh, yeah: I’m already doing most of my writing on the Neo. I really do like it that much!

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Yet Another New Tool!

Neo

As a writer, I find the biggest problem with modern technology is all of the potential distractions. I love writing on my iPhone, iPad, or laptop, but it’s too easy to get distracted by email, IMs, Google searches, etc.

For example, I’ll need to check Wikipedia for information. I find it, but there are so many interesting links in the article, and 30 minutes later I’m down the rabbit hole with Alice only to discover when I surface that I’ve lost my original thought.

Enter the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally designed as a basic word processor for schools, it’s found a new following among writers. It originally cost $200 per unit, and it’s no longer being manufactured. But you can find them on eBay–which is where I bought mine (brand new) for $20.

So what’s the big deal? it’s really quite simple: it’s a word processor. It doesn’t connect to the Internet, so it affords me hours of distraction-free writing. Once I’m done, I can connect it via USB cable to my laptop, open a Word or Libre Writer or Scrivener document, and send the file over from my Neo.

It powers up almost instantaneously, relying as it does on 3 AA batteries which folks I’ve talked with say will give me about a year’s worth of power, or roughly 700 hours.

Mine arrived today, and so I’m still getting used to it. I’ll be giving a more thorough review in a week or so, after I’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces.

Oh, yes: I wrote this article on my new toy! It’s more like writing on a typewriter than on a computer. And another thing: it only displays 4 lines at a time, so there’s no temptation to go back and edit as I write.

It has a spell-checker, with the option to add new words to the built-in dictionary, as well as a (very primitive) thesaurus.

When I turn it on, it returns to my last position in the last file I was working on, which is handy.

I also like being able to add to a file without caring about where it fits best: I just write without editing, and then edit the document once I’ve sent it to the laptop.

The display is bright enough to use the Neo out of doors–at least in the shade.

Indeed, as I’m writing this I’m sitting outside in an Adirondack chair, enjoying the fresh air.

I thought about buying a protective case for it, but I’m not about to shell out a hundred bucks for a case for a $20 item!

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new tech item since 1981, when I bought my first computer–a Kaypro CP/M computer.

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Scribophile: An On-Line Writing Community

Are you like me? You’d love to join a writing community so you can discuss ideas, problems, etc., but you have no transportation and would rather spend the 4-hour bus ride writing?

Or maybe you’re in a town that’s too small to have a writer’s group. Maybe your only access to a public library is via the Internet.

Then pour yourself a nice cup of tea, find a comfy chair, and let me tell you all about Scribophile. Here’s what the site has to say about itself:

Scribophile is a respectful online writing workshop and writer’s community. Writers of all skill levels join to improve each other’s work with thoughtful critiques and by sharing their writing experience.

We’re the writing group to join if you want to find beta readers, get the best feedback around, learn how to get published, and be a part of the friendliest and most successful writing workshop online.

Scribophile is famous for the detailed and helpful critiques our members exchange. The critiques you’ll get are so much more than just a pat on the back—you’ll get actionable ways to improve your writing.

As part of our community, you’ll be writing critiques for others too. Members tell us again and again that learning how to write great critiques dramatically improved their own writing.

I first learned about Scribophile from an article I read on Medium and decided to check it out. I did, and it so impressed me that I created an account.

In fact, I was so impressed that I went back the next day and upgraded from a free to a premium account. For just a little more than a latte and a little less than a pack of cigarettes I now have access to all of the site’s features.

Pay It Forward

Scribophile expects you to contribute to the site. But not with money. Rather, before you can post your own story for review, you have to gain karma points. It costs you 5 karma points to upload each story.

You gain can karma points in any number of ways: writing a critique of someone else’s work, posting comments, and just generally being a polite and active member. I’ve only been a member for 2 days, and I’ve already received 2 karma points. As soon as I earn 5, I’ll upload my first work to be critiqued.

Why This Makes Sense

At first, I resented that I couldn’t upload a story until I earned the required karma points. But the longer I thought about it,  the more t made sense: you can’t come barging in demanding that everybody read your work and then run off. You have to earn the right to have your work critiqued.

That approach also keeps people active in groups and forums.

Scribophile: your online writer’s group. Give it a try!

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