Category: gadgets

It’s official: I want an iPad


When iPad’s first came out, I didn’t see a compelling reason to get one. After all, I have an iMac and a MacBook and an iPhone, to say nothing of a Kindle, and those seem to do well to make up for any lack I might experience. But in the back of my mind, I always told myself that if New Scientist ever became available on the iPad, that would push me over.

Well, I saw in a recent issue of New Scientist that it was now available on the iPad through Zinio app.

Scientific American has a digital edition, and I already subscribe to Analog and Asimov’s on the Kindle (and the print editions, as well). With New Scientist available on the iPad, I could read all of my subscriptions in electronic format on a single device. (My subscriptions to InterGalactic Medicine Show and Apex Magazine are already electronic.)

Yes, you can get New Scientist on the iPhone through Zinio but the screen size simply doesn’t do it justice. And besides, the fact is it makes a good excuse to get an iPad.

I don’t think I’ll be getting one anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that when I’m ready to get one, it will aid in my efforts to go paperless.

The paperless writing-cycle using Scrivener and Kindle

Combining my quest for a paperless office at home with my writing goals this year has required some changes to old habits. It used to be that I would write the first draft of a story, print that story out, mark up the printout, and then begin working on the second draft. But I’m trying to avoid that middle printing step and now that I’ve been through the cycle once this year, I thought I’d share how I did it in 7 steps:

  1. Write an aborted novel using Scrivener 2.0
  2. Decide the story you are telling doesn’t really work (and in fact, you’re not yet cut out to be a novelist)
  3. Cannibalize the first part of the novel and use it for a novelette
  4. Use Scrivener to export the novel to the Kindle
  5. Read what you wrote on the Kindle and make lots and lots (165) annotations
  6. Copy annotations into Scrivener
  7. Use multiple monitors to write the new story using your annotions.

I’ve covered the first 5 steps in other posts, and if you are so inclined, you can click on the links to learn more about what I did. It’s the last two steps that I wanted to discuss today.

As I finished the read through on the Kindle, it occurred to me: how am I going to transfer 165 notes into Scrivener so that they will be useful for me–and do so without printing anything out? It didn’t take long for a simple, if not slightly cumbersome solution presented itself. Kindle uses “Whispernet” to sync your library with other devices and apps that you have. So I opened up the Kindle App for Mac on my MacBook and indeed, right there in my library was my NaNoWriMo novel. I opened up the novel in the Kindle App and there were my annotations right there on the screen:


From here, I could copy the note and paste into my Scrivener document as a comment in the appropriate place. Like, I said, a little cumbersome but I avoided paper and I avoided having to retype (which I what I would have had to do if I read it off the Kindle directly). I could have copied the entire “Clippings” file from the Kindle and pasted the relevant portion into my Scrivener document notes, but that wouldn’t have helped much because Kindle clippings list Kindle location and that wouldn’t have helped me locate where the note was supposed to go. The result was something like this:

Scrivener Comments.png

Now, I realize that I can split the screen and use multiple windows to look at the old document and the new, but when I am writing new stuff, I like having the window full with what I am writing. So I make use of two monitors when I am doing the actual writing:


The top monitor contains the original Scrivener document that I wrote for NaNoWriMo, along with the annotations I made on my Kindle and transferred into Scrivener. The bottom screen contains the new novelette version of the story (show in the picture in cork board mode). I can read what I originally wrote in the top window, along with my notes and annotations, and write the new version of the story in the bottom window. So far, this has been working very well.

It makes me think that an interesting future feature for Scrivener might be the ability to import annotations from the Kindle Clippings file directly into an existing Scrivener document, parsing them and creating the notes as comments in the document. Of course, this would require the ability of translating a Kindle location number into a position in the Scrivener document and would only work if there had been no changes since the export to the Kindle (otherwise the location numbers might not line up). Still I think it would be interesting.

Regardless, I think this is another good example of using Scrivener and Kindle together. Not only are they useful applications for writers, they are green applications and can be good for the environment.

Using the Kindle to read story drafts

My evolution of story draft reading has come a long way in the last year. A year ago, I’d print out my first drafts, mark them up in red ink and then head into my second draft. Then I tried reading the draft within Scrivener and that worked pretty well, too, but it was a little less portable than a paper manuscript, since I didn’t always have my laptop with me. Reading a draft is a convenient thing to do in those small scraps of time that one finds during the day, waiting for an elevator, sitting in a doctor office lobby, waiting for a meeting to start. So when I started my work on “Rescue”, I decided to try reading the draft on the Kindle and see how it felt.

As I’ve mentioned, “Rescue” is a novelette that I am writing by cannibalizing the first part of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo. So in essence what I am doing is reading that first part, deciding what ideas and characters to keep and what to throw away, and then rewriting the whole thing from scratch as a self-contained story, cutting it from 35,000 words in it’s novel form down to 15-to-20,000 words in story form.

Scrivener makes it easy to export a story to Kindle format. Once the story was on the Kindle, I moved it to “My Fiction” collection and started reading. If I found something I wanted to cut, or change, I’d use the Kindle’s highlight feature to highlight the text, and then I’d use the Kindle’s notes/annotations feature to add a note. Since the keyboard on the Kindle is QWERTY, it’s easy to type and capture short notes like, “Cut this” or more extensive notes like, “I’m not sure if this character belongs in the story. Their viewpoint doesn’t add much and slows the pace down. It would also allow me to cut this scene…”

I’ve managed to get 63% through my reading and I’ve made well over 100 annotations and even more highlights. Here is a typical screenshot:


I’ve found that I can work as easily as if I had a paper manuscript in my hands, and since I almost always have my Kindle with me, I can work on this just about anywhere. And best of all, the notes and annotations that I am making are stored on the device and can be opened as a text file, which I can then pull into my Scrivener project to use as a reference when I write the new story.

There is one downside that I have found so far:

Because I copied the story to my Kindle directly from my computer, as opposed to using Amazon’s service (which would have cost a buck or two), the story is only available on the Kindle device. It does not sync up to Amazon and therefore, for instance, I can’t pull it up on my iPhone.

Nevertheless, I am pleased with the overall feel of reading a draft on the Kindle and making my notes there, and it is likely the way I will handle all future drafts of stories. A story like this one would easily have consumed 150 manuscript pages. Add to that another draft, to say nothing of ten more stories this year, and this method also goes a long way toward my goal of becoming paperless at home, too.

Alarmfail 2011

I use my iPhone as my alarm clock. I rarely need an alarm clock because I generally wake up when I want to, but I set it as a backup. It has a soft harp sound that won’t wake Kelly and I can have an alarm for weekdays and weekends. Last night I set my alarm for 5am.

I woke at 5:20am and my alarm hadn’t gone off. I got up, went downstairs, made breakfast and set about my writing work for the day, mildly annoyed that I lost 20 minutes.

Turns out, there is a major bug in iPhone alarms in 2011. Apple is working on a fix, but until then, the best solution I’ve seen is this one. What’s even more annoying for me is that the fix will no doubt be released as iOS 4.2.1 or something like that. And since my iPhone connects to my old PowerPC iMac, I can’t get the update because it is not supported in iTunes on the PowerPC anymore. I have 3 choices in the short term:

  1. Live with the workaround
  2. See if I can buy a version of OS 10.5 which will allow me to continue to use the most recent iTunes and receive updates for my phone
  3. Get a new computer

My iMac is limping along and is nearly 7 years old. I probably should get a new computer, but the iMac is only used as our desktop server. I have a MacBook which is up-to-date. I suppose another option would be to kill the iMac, take it offline and use my MacBook as our “server” in the short term, until I’m ready to replace the desktop machine. I plan on replacing it with a Mac Mini, but I ‘m not yet ready to spend the money on it.

All of this because the stupid alarm clock won’t work on the iPhone. Bad Apple. Go stand in the corner for the rest of the day.

Tools of the trade

With lots of people posting their initial impressions on Scrivener 2.0, I figured I’d talk about some of the other tools I use since I plan to write about my impressions of Scrivener 2.0 after I’ve completed NaNoWriMo.  Scrivener is, of course my main tool for writing because it does a whole lot of things very well. But there are other tools I use and these are listed below.

Tools for backups

As a writer, the stuff that I write is difficult to recreate should it be lost. Ultimately this is true of any data stored on computer and we have almost all experienced some sort of data loss from which we couldn’t recover. Here are the tools that I use to ensure that I never lose any data, whether its the story I’m working on, photos, music, research, whatever.

  • iDrive for Macintosh.  iDrive is a “cloud” backup application that backs your data up to the cloud.  The nice thing about iDrive is that you can backup up to 5 computers and so this software is used on my laptop, Kelly’s laptop and the desktop that acts as our server.  iDrive backs up small files in real time as changes are made.  For larger files, backups are scheduled nightly and as long as the computers remain on, the data gets backed up without thinking about it.  I pay for 500 GB (1/2 TB) of storage space and it costs about $100/year.  The very first backup (which backed up all my music, photos, videos, etc.) took a couple of days, even with the pretty high upload speeds that I have, but all subsequent backups are quick and if the computer is not connected at the scheduled time, the backup takes place the next time it’s connected.  Restores are easy (you can restore from anywhere using a web browser) and for full-restores they will send you a flash drive with your data if requested.  I sleep easy at night knowing that our stuff is always backed up.
  • Thumb drive backups.  After I finish a writing session, I take the extra precaution of backing up my writing data to a thumb drive.  I have an Automator script that I run on my mac that backs up all my writing files to the thumb drive.  This is perhaps paranoia on my part, but it makes sure that the stuff I write gets backed up if for some reason the iDrive backup doesn’t happen for a few hours.

Submission/story tracking

There are now lots of tools out there for tracking stories submissions and other business online, but my methods have evolved over 15 years and center around spreadsheets and so I stick with my own custom system.

The system makes use of a Google Docs spreadsheet–so that it accessible no matter where I go.  The spreadsheet has a number of tabs to track things in different ways:

  • Submission log: lists all of my submissions in order of date, going back to January 1993.  I track the story, market, current status, notes, final date, and number of days out for submission.  For rejections, the status links to either a copy of the gmail rejection message or a scanned in copy of rejection letter.  For acceptances, the entry links to the acceptance note and a copy of the contract and check, all of which are stored in Google Docs.
  • Publication log: lists all my publications by story, market, publication date, type (original, reprint) and payment.
  • Story log: list all my stories in order of completion.  Each story contains some summary information culled from the Submission Log: # of submissions, rejections, sales, publications and the total payments received for the piece.
  • Market log: an alphabetical list of all markets to which I have submitted, along with summary info like #submissions, rejections, sales, and the average response time.
  • Expense log: a list of all writing-related expenses along with links to scanned in copies of receipts for tax purposes.

Calendar and scheduling tools

I use Google Calendar for tracking writing-related events and progress.  I have a separate calendar called “Writing” on which I put anything writing related, whether its a meeting of the Arlington Writers Group, a science fiction convention, or other event.  I also use the calendar as my “timesheet” for tracking my time writing (important for tax purposes for certain types of write-offs).  Each writing session goes on the calendar with a subject something like this:

5-7am Far Away Places (1,635/23,924)

That tells me that on that day, between 5 and 7 am, added 1,635 words to the story Far Away Places, bringing the total word count to 23,924.  I will add other notes to indicate revisions, proofreading, research, outlining, etc.  I have ben using this method for over a year and it is simple and works well.  Once per quarter, I take the data from Google Calendar and export it to my spreadsheet where I can filter it and compute totals.  In fact, “Take One for the Road”, the story I recently sold to ANALOG, is the first story for which I can give an exact accounting of the total time I spent working on it from first conception to sale.

Domain, website and blog

For a few years now, I own and maintain three domains to use for my Internet presence:,, and  These domains host my website and blog, and these are the tools that I use to make it all work:

  • DirectNIC: this is the company I use for hosting my domain.  They are relatively inexpensive and provide a good set of tools for people wiling to do some grunt work (which means you have to know what you are doing).  One of the reasons I chose them is because they provide MySQL database access which is something I wanted for my website.
  • MySQL: I use this to manage databases, primarily the databases used by WordPress.
  • WordPress: I use a custom installation of WordPress which I installed on my own and customized some of the code and templates to meet my needs. My installation of WordPress automatically crossposts my blog entries to my LiveJournal account, as well as to Twitter and Facebook.

Other tools

A few other items worth mentioning:

  • Gmail.  I use it for all my email needs.  It is by far the best email system I have encountered and I’ve never had a problem with it.  At this point I have it highly customized to my needs, with labels, and filters that make going through my email easy.  All software should be this easy and intuitive to use.
  • Google Docs.  When I am away from my laptop, I rely heavily on Google Docs for writing-related functions.  While it’s no Scrivener, it’s the next best thing.  I can work on a story, or notes, or whatever and then copy or import them into Scrivener at a later time.

That about sums it up.  What tools do you use?

Kindle “samples” save money!

I’ve recently discovered another bonus of the Kindle–which I have been using now for well over a year: samples!  Prior to having a Kindle, my book-buying behavior followed 2 possible pathways:

  1. Rush off to bookstore, browse for something that piqued my interest, and purchase on the hopes that I would like it.  I rarely had the time to read the first few pages, let alone the first chapter in the bookstore.
  2. Order it online (usually via Amazon) and read it when it arrived.

In both cases, I sometimes found that a chapter or so into the book, it wasn’t what I expected, and had I known that, I would not have purchased it in the first place.

With my Kindle, I can download a sample of the book for free before buying the book.  Usually, a sample is about the first 10% of the book, which is generally enough for me to decide whether I want to finish or give up.  I cannot begin to emphasize how much money this has saved me.  I’d say I give up on one of every 5 new books, and given the volume of books I go through, this adds up.  And even though Kindle book prices tend to be cheaper than hardcovers, I am still saving myself a good deal of money by downloading the sample first.

And if I like what I am reading?  Kindle makes it easy for me to order the full book when I reach the end of the sample.

Being able to sample books like this makes the online browsing experience a little more like walking through a brick-and-mortar bookstore, with the advantage that I can pull 20 books off the shelf, sample them at my leisure, and then discard or ignore the ones that don’t capture my interest, saving my a good deal of time, as well.

Kindle to the rescue

It doesn’t happen often, but on those rare occasions when it does, it drives me nuts:  I leave the house and by the time I get to work, I realize I’ve forgotten whatever book it is that I happen to be reading.  I look forward to my lunches everyday because I usually spend that time reading.  It gets my mind off work and breaks up the day for me.  And so when I forget my book, it ruins lunch (and sometime the day) for me.

Today, I forgot my book.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Stand and I’m enjoying it.  When I left the house this morning, going through my mental checklist, I ticked off this check box labeled “take stuff out to car”.  The thing is, Kelly is heading out of town and I took her stuff out to the car, and forgot my own messenger bag in the house.  Inside that messenger bag is my book.

But never fear, Kindle is here!

I’ve had my Kindle since late June and I’ve read a dozen books on it.  In fact, The Stand is the 13th book I’ve read on my Kindle (for those of you who are superstitious).  Of course, it doesn’t matter that I left my Kindle at home.   My lunchtime is not ruined.  I have at least 2 options:

  1. I can continue to read The Stand from where I left off by simply opening up the Kindle App on my iPhone.  Sure the screen is a little smaller, but the text is clear and I’ve read from my phone before without any trouble.
  2. I can download and install the Kindle App for Windows on my laptop and read from there, if I feel like I need a bigger screen.

This is one of those advantages to eBooks, in general, and the Kindle, specifically, that isn’t always captured in the “Why You Should Read eBooks” articles that are all over the web these days.  With an eBook, gone are the days where leaving your “book” (device) at home is a problem.  My lunch is not ruined.

Kindle saved the day.

More thoughts on the Kindle

Now that I have read about half a dozen books on my Kindle, I thought I’d offer a few more thoughts on the device and the experience:

  • I often read while I am eating my lunch.  With a traditional book, this has always been somewhat of a problem for me.  I am very careful with my books, even paperbacks, where I try to avoid breaking the spine for instance.  With hardcovers, there is the problem of keeping the pages open with one hand, while eating with the other.  With the Kindle, all of these problems go away.  I can set the Kindle flat on the table, and not touch it, except to tap the Next Page button.
  • With traditional books, I have always been hesitant to make notes in the margins.  With the Kindle, I have no problem doing this, and it’s actually very convenient to be able to mark the exact place I want to make a note, and have access to the notes file on my computer for additional edits, if I so choose.
  • Whenever I reached the halfway point in a book, I’d always toss the next book in my bag so that if I finished the current book, I wouldn’t be caught without something else to read.  With the Kindle, I don’t have this problem.  I can have many books “in my bag” at the same time, and no matter how many they are, or how big they are, they only take up the space and weight of the Kindle itself.

There are still some things that take some getting used to:

  • Footnotes can be awkward if they are not well-implemented.
  • It’s not as easy to skip ahead and see how much more of the current chapter is left (convenient for finding a good stopping point) as it is with a traditional book.  A future version of the Kindle OS might include an indicator that shows you how many “locations” remain before the next chapter.
  • I like the Kindle enough to want to read just about everything on it, so that it has become frustration (and disappointing) when I find that the book I’d like to read is not available for the Kindle.  (And clicking the “Tell the publisher you’d like to read this book on the Kindle” link that Amazon provides is of little help, especially since I have no idea what clicking that button actually does.
  • There are a few books that are listed for the Kindle, but when you go to the page, you find are “unavailable”.  The most frustrating of these is Will Durant’s Story of Civilization.

All told, I really like my Kindle.  I am surprised to find that it is just as easy and comfortable to read off the screen as it is the printed page, so long as it is done in a way that makes the screen feel like a printed page.