Category Archives: Software

An Incredibly Useful Tool. And It’s FREE!

I’ve written before about e-books, e-readers, and the like. Now I’d like to introduce you to a recent discovery I made regarding my local public library and its collection.

Libby is a simple app I discovered whilst browsing through the Apple App Store. I was so intrigued that I downloaded it to my iPhone…

…and then had to go to the library to get a new library card, since my old one had expired a couple of years ago. My friend Stacey took me, since (1) I don’t have a car and (2) our public transit system is not the best in the world. Had I gone by bus, it would have involved one transfer and a long wait, only to be repeated to get home again.

Altogether, a minimum of 4 hours transportation time. And that didn’t include the time I’d spend perusing the stacks.

Once I had the new card, I was done. Stacey spent some time browsing and checking out a few videos, after which I treated her to lunch.

Then it was back home,  and time to configure Libby.

It Was So Simple!

Libby first asked me for my library card number. Once it was confirmed, it then asked me a few questions about my reading preferences: did I prefer to read books in the Libby app? On my Kindle or Nook? How about on my laptop with the desktop Libby program?

Then it was off to the library…without leaving the house!

While policies may vary from library to library, the Monroe County (New York) Public Library system allows me to check out and download 8 books for 21 days each. There are also magazines, as well as audio books.

When I’m done with the current book, I just open the menu and select “Return To Library.” POOF! It’s gone from my device.

Now For The Best Part

I’ve installed Libby on my iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle, my Nook, and my Windows laptop. If I begin reading a book on the iPhone and then move over to one of the other devices, Libby asks me if I want to start anew or to sync to where I’ve read on the iPhone. From then on, Libby will always open to the furthest point I’ve read.

Okay, I stand corrected: that’s the second best thing about Libby. The best thing is it’s free!

So Why Am I Writing About Libby?

Because I’m not the only old fart senior citizen who has trouble getting around. And I thought Libby is a great idea that needs to be shared by anyone who reads.

Now go read a book!

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Filed under Aging, Software

Drafts: The App

As a writer, I’m always looking out for The Next Great Tool. And while I’ve pretty much settled on Ulysses for novels and short stories, I’m still not completely satisfied with what’s available for blogging on mobile platforms (I’m looking at you, iPhone and iPad).

On my Windows laptop, Open Live Writer is my program of choice. Unfortunately, it’s not available for mobile devices–they’re just not powerful enough.

This morning I started reading someone’s blog post about a program called Drafts. It looked interesting, so I decided to take it for a spin, which was easy enough to do since there is a free version as well as a paid version.

So I installed it on my iPhone. In fact, I’m writing this entry using it. I already have several writing apps on this phone, so why do I keep looking for more?

It’s quite simple, really: I wasn’t all that smart when I bought my smartphone. I went with the one that had the least amount of memory: 16Gb. Which means I’m constantly searching for more efficient apps so that I can use the fewest number of them as possible.

And yes, I learned my lesson: my new iPad has 128Gb of memory.


Formatting text in Drafts is quite simple; it uses Markdown language which is accessed via the on-screen Markdown toolbar. It’s the same language Ulysses uses, which is pretty cool considering that I can export my writing right into Ulysses.

So today will be a day of research. I’m going to install Drafts onto my iPad, and put it through its paces. My goal is to see what, if any, apps it can replace. I’m also going to see how far I can go with the free version, which will help me decide if I really need to spend money for the Pro version.

I just installed Drafts onto my iPad and it immediately synced to the cloud and retrieved this post. So far, so good! That means that although I’m still going to use GoodNotes on the iPad, I don’t need to keep it on the iPhone, thus freeing up space for those all-too-crucial pictures of cats.

I also managed to export this post to Evernote, then copy/paste it into Open Live Writer, my editor of choice on my laptop. It’s really beginning to look as if Drafts Is here to stay! I’ve already replaced Apple’s Notes app on both of my mobile devices, and between Drafts and Ulysses, I no longer have any need for 53’s Paper or Apple’s Pages.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at a few more of Draft’s operating details.

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Filed under Blogging Tools, Drafts, Software, Writing Tools

Still Another New Writing Tool

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” –Jane Austen, in “Pride and Prejudice.”

“It is also a truth universally acknowledged, that a lonely writer in possession of all of her faculties, must be in want of the perfect writing tool.” –Robyn Jane Sheppard, in “This Blog Post.”

Finally, it is also a truth universally acknowledged, that there ain’t no such animal.

So what’s a poor starving writer, sitting day after day in her Lonely Writer’s Garrett,™ to do? Well, in my case, my memory is good enough to remember my high school science class, where we learned the Scientific Method. (I guess Mr. Wantshouse was right: he said there’d come a time when I’d use these lessons.)

For those of you who have forgotten–or never learned the Scientific Method, it’s really quite simple: try something. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

“Wait a minute, Robyn,” I hear you say. “Isn’t that just trial and error?”

“Ah, yes, Young Grasshopper. But the difference is with the Scientific Method, you make notes and keep detailed records so you know why it did or didn’t work.”

Yet Another New Writing Tool

Wow! Two new tools in as many days. How special! Look, in at least one way, authors are like computer programmers: programmers are always looking for a quicker or easier or more elegant way of solving a problem. And why? Because they’re essentially lazy!

And so are writers. While we may love our craft, there are days when we absolutely hate the work involved. “If only I had a better plot/character/story-line.” Sometimes I’ll even find a misspelled word and instead of correcting it manually, I’ll just click on it and let spell check fix it for me.

On Word Processors and Text Editors

What do you write with? Microsoft Word© is the industry heavyweight. It’s a powerful writing tool, but for many people, it’s too powerful. Not to mention expensive.

LibreOffice is an excellent replacement for Microsoft Office©, and it comes with a fine word processor. Still many people just don’t like the idea of having an entire suite of programs taking up disk space on the off chance that one of them might come in handy one day.

Text editors are stripped-down versions of word processors. They don’t do any fancy formatting, and they save their files as simple .txt files which can be read by any other text editor or word processor. But they usually don’t do any kind of spell checking, unless you install an additional program for that, so why not stick with a word processor?

Enter FocusWriter

My latest discovery is FocusWriter, a free word processor. I mean “free” in the same sense as “free beer,” as well as “free software:” it’s yours to use at no cost, and you’re free to give it away to anyone who wants a copy. If you download a copy, there’s an option to send its creator a $5 tip, but it’s not required. But hey! It’s worth it!

What’s so special about it? Consider the following, taken from the program’s “About” file:

FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free word processor. It utilizes a
hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of
the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it
while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in
your work.

FocusWriter allows you to customize your environment by creating themes
that control the font, colors, and background image to add ambiance. It
also features on-the-fly updating statistics, daily goals, multiple open
documents, spell-checking, and much more.

Additionally, when you open the program your current work in progress will
automatically load and position you where you last left off so that you
can immediately jump back in.

And the writing surface itself? This is a screenshot of the main editing screen:


The toolbar at the top is only visible if you mouse over it. Otherwise, you never see it.

When you’re ready to save your work, the default file format is OpenDocument Text (*.odt), but you can also choose from a list:

  1. OpenDocument Flat XML (*.fodt)
  2. Office Open XML (*.docx)
  3. Rich Text Format (*.rtf)

Summing Up

FocusWriter isn’t for everyone – it’s not the right tool for going back through and editing your work – but it’s a lovely little app with a very modest footprint that stops you keeping an eye on Twitter all day.

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Filed under Blogging, My Writng Toolbox, Software, Writing Tools

Yet Another Writing Tool

As an author, blogger, and Medium contributor, I’m always painfully aware of language. And I use the word “painfully” advisedly: as the daughter of a mother who had a genius-level IQ, and the niece of a retired English professor, a paranoia of a kind is always present when I’m writing.

Open Live Writer, my favorite blogging tool, has a spell checker, so I’m not too worried about misspellings. But it doesn’t check grammar, punctuation, usage, or any of the other things I worry about.

Enter Grammarly, which may well be the ultimate writing assistant. The free version, which is what I’m using, performs critical grammar and spelling checks. The premium version adds:

  • Advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure
  • Vocabulary enhancement suggestions
  • Genre-specific writing style checks
  • Advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure
  • Vocabulary enhancement suggestions
  • Genre-specific writing style checks
  • Plagiarism detector that checks more than 8 billion web pages
  • Advanced checks for punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure

If you’re a professional writer, you might consider the premium version; however, at $30 a month, it’s a bit rich for my blood. There are actually 3 pricing structures:

  • $29.95 a month, billed monthly
  • $19.98 a month, billed quarterly at a single payment of $59.95
  • $11.66 a month, billed annually at a single payment of $139.95

For now, I consider it a useful addition to my Writer’s Toolbox. Maybe when I win the Nobel Prize for Literature, I’ll consider upgrading to premium.

No animals were hurt during this blog. However, several million pixels voluntarily give their lives in the service of communication and snarky remarks.

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Filed under Blogging, My Writng Toolbox, Software, Writing, Writing Tools

YANWT: Yet Another New Writing Tool

What can I say about Bear? Yes, it’s a writing app. Yes, it’s specifically for Mac OS and iOS devices. Yes, it’s free. And yes, I bought it.

Wait! WTF, Robyn? It’s free and you bought it? Well, yes. That’s how apps are marketed, right? The basic app is free, but if you want all the bells and whistles, you have to buy the app. Or, in Bear’s case, a subscription. Here’s what its creators have to say about that:

Pricing model

The core version of Bear for iOS and Mac is free.

Bear Pro offer advanced features, including sync between all your devices, application themes and exporting, which can be unlocked via a single subscription that covers all your devices.

The Bear Pro subscription comes in two variant $1.49 monthly or $14.99 annually.

Prices may vary from location to location due to local taxation laws and conversion rates from U.S. Dollars.

So the free version runs on one device (although you can install it on more than one), and the paid subscription allows you to sync all of your projects on all of your devices.

For me, it’s important to be able to synch my iPhone and my iPad. Evernote is a great app, but the storage space on my iPhone is limited, so I only have it on my iPad and my laptop. And where Evernote keeps its data files on both devices, Bear uses the cloud for storage. In plain English, that means Bear only takes up 22Mb on my iPhone, as opposed to Evernote’s 105Mb (and climbing).

I Don’t Use Bear For Writing on my iPhone

I used to have several blogging apps on my iPhone. I’ve replaced them all with Bear—saving even more space. I used them to jot down ideas for blog posts. I never actually write any blog entries: the iPhone keyboard is too small for any lengthy typing. And I don’t write with Bear on the phone, either; rather, I use it to jot down notes  and ideas for articles and blog posts. Once I’m home, I can either compose an article on my iPad, or export the notes in a format I can then edit on my PC using LibreOffice.

This also lets me free up space in my purse, since I don’t have to carry a notepad and pen with me: Bear has also replaced them.

Bear features at a glance

  • Advanced Markup Editor that supports and highlights over 20 programming languages
  • Rich previews while writing so you see prose, not code
  • In-line support for images and photos
  • Use Cross-Note Links to build a body of work, quickly reference other notes, and more
  • Quickly add to-dos to individual notes to keep yourself on task
  • Multiple themes to offer a style for everyone
  • Multiple export options including HTML, PDF, DOCX, MD, JPG, and more
  • Smart Data Recognition of elements like links, emails, addresses, colors, and more to come
  • Hashtags to quickly find and organize notes however you like
  • One-tap formatting on iPhone and iPad with a custom shortcut bar
  • Focus Mode hides notes and other options when it matters
  • All your notes are stored in plain text for the ultimate in portability
  • Effortless, secure, and private multi-device sync via iCloud
  • Regular updates to keep you and your writing current

The Learning Curve

Because Bear is a powerful writing tool, with many capabilities, the learning curve is rather steep. But if I can do it, anybody can!

Summing Up

If you’re looking for a powerful writing tool for your Macintosh, iPhone, or iPad, you can’t go wrong with Bear. Give it a try.

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Filed under Blogging, Blogging Tools, Software, Writing Tools