Resources for Writers

I mentioned in the last post that I use WordWeb for my thesaurus. I like it for its simplicity and for the ability to access other sources. I have found over the years that there are good resources and there are not so good ones.

Some may not like Wikipedia due to its open edit vulnerability. And I say if you are going to depend on one resource for your research, then you are doing it wrong. Wikipedia is a vast resource and the ideal place to start. Their links at the bottom (see also, references, further reading, and/or external links), are the next step. Wikipedia is just one part of a wonderful organization called the Wikimedia Foundation. From images to quotes to even a species directory, Wikimedia Foundation provides a vast resource of information to get lost in.

Wiktionary is one part of the Wikimedia Foundation that I use almost as much as Wikipedia. I especially like it for its etymology.

Wolfram|Alpha is another huge network of resources. For example, their unit conversion section is amazing. You can even compute what size knitting needles you need!

The Phrontistery is an obscure word source. I blink a lot whenever I visit there. I use it to spark my brain into thinking deeper than it has been. Or to find a word that fits better. Like the section for Carriages and Carts.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing, part of the Capital Community College Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut. It is another huge resource that covers a wide spectrum. It is a wonderful place to get a refresher course on just what the heck is the object and predicate and whatever? Just be aware there are some website weirdness (sudden highlighting of sentences if your cursor goes over them, everything going bold as you scroll down, etc).

Similar to them would be Purdue University’s OWL (online writing lab). It is geared a lot toward students (how to write an essay, put together a bibliography, etc) but they do have a Workplace Writers section that deals with correspondence formats, resumes, etc although there’s still a plethora of information we can use.

The Urban Dictionary is…interesting. And can be…enlightening? I don’t use it often. I list it here because it is at least good for wondering just what the hell kids are saying these days. It is NOT Suitable for Work! OMG no.

Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com are two linked sites that are another so-so source. While not community driven (as in open editing), they are advertising driven which makes for crowded webpages. Some users have noted errors with the overly simplistic answers.

Want to know medieval names and stuff? The Academy of Saint Gabriel. They have names, heraldry (weapons, banners, etc), and information on how to use both.

Want to know what occupations medieval folks had? This guy knows.

Want to know what food medieval people ate? Here’s not only information on it, but recipes! Also check out their Arts and Sciences of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

And of course there’s the Society for Creative Anachronism and their vast resources.

Oh! And the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts! Their “How much does historical swords weigh” article is enlightening.

And good ol’ Google. Seriously. Google searches are a great place to start. Just be sure to use the best search terms. Another article on how to increase your Google-fu.

The list goes on. My bookmarks file is huge and the one for Writer Stuff is a big chunk of it. The idea here is to not rely on one resource for information you are going to put into your book. Just don’t do it. Some of the research you will do will never be included in the book but will make you feel comfortable enough to help your characters discuss the topics.

OpenOffice vs LibreOffice

Long time no post! Life has been…intense.

Anyway, I was doing something with OpenOffice, wanted to see if an extension would help, but the extension page wouldn’t load. And other information pages were showing years old stuff. Then I remembered someone on Facebook had said something about it being bought out or something. So I went investigating. And about cried. Apache OpenOffice was officially discontinued in 2011.

OpenOffice has gone by a lot of names and transitions. It’s a good example of open source, licensing, proprietary, forking, and business politics. Kinda like a geek soap opera. Well, here, check out this image.

At any rate, OpenOffice is, essentially, dead. Which is sad, because it had a HUGE amount of users. Huge. And was beginning to make MS Office sweat.

Which brings me to a replacement for those of us who hate MS Office (the bulk, the embedding, the cost, the crap, the seemingly constant file extension changes, and more!) and those of us who are uncomfortable using OpenOffice with no security updates forthcoming. Enter LibreOffice (LO). LO has its own history (see the link to the image above) and could be (and should be) considered a better version of OpenOffice. LO is maintained by The Document Foundation (TDF) and is flourishing. Most of its programmers (and others) are from when Oracle donated OO to Apache Software. They didn’t like the direction it was going and left, got the source code (it’s all about the licensing when it comes to alleged open source), and made their own playground. Basically. Which means if you switch from OO to LO, there’s not going to be much of a learning curve since they are essentially the same. There’s subtle differences.

I’ve been using LO for a while now (few weeks I guess) and am liking it. First off, I like the landing page. Because of it, I was able to remove a line of shortcuts from my desktop. I kept a shortcut for each manuscript I was actively working on so I could choose whichever one I felt like working on that day. But I can now open LO and see a pictorial representation of my recent documents. I can clear the list or just remove individual ones by clicking an X.


Second, I didn’t like the standard icon set that appeared on LibreOffice. The standard OpenOffice icons are cleaner. I had to dig around and find the themes (something I never used in OO). I am a creature of habit and didn’t like pausing so long to figure out where the italic icon was. Ya know? (in image below, my OO toolbar, the default LO, and the one I chose)



I never used the QuickStarter for OpenOffice because I’ve never had enough PC memory to handle it. LibreOffice takes a little longer to load a document but not so much I worry it has hung itself. I turned the QuickStarter on for both and checked the memory use. LibreOffice uses a lot more memory, even without the QuickStarter running. BUT, I also have more of it installed, as you can tell by the fourth image below.

Both programs open with similar sized documents (odt format).

Both programs with just the QuickStarter going.

Both programs with similar sized documents and the QuickStarter going.

Options under the QuickStarter of both

There aren’t as many extensions for LibreOffice. But the good thing is it doesn’t need them. For example, in OpenOffice I had to put in a footer with the word count field, go to Tools>Word Count, or use an extension. LibreOffice has this standard AND shows the character count. And I heart it muchly. It’s the little things that make or break a relationship. I’m still exploring the extensions and will do another post about them later.

Things are hard to find on the LibreOffice website. Like, when I first starting using it, I tried to use the Help. It wasn’t there and it sent me online, telling me I needed to download it. But it didn’t tell me where it was. And I couldn’t find it. I finally got frustrated with that and just started digging (it is kinda hidden in the box where you download it and is called “offline help”). It is a hard to navigate site. The Document Foundation (LO’s handler) does not offer support. You have to either pay for it or go to the extremely simplistic “forum”.

I had an issue in the beginning that I had to go to the forum for help. I couldn’t use custom dictionaries. But I came up with the answer myself.

There’s two things about LO that has me very happy. When you save a file, it saves a backup. I could never get OpenOffice to do it. Yes, that’s double the data but I can clean that folder out every once in a while, getting rid of saves I don’t need. The other thing it does is save to or open from a remote server. Meaning FTP/SSH, WebDAV, Windows Share, Google Drive, and/or a CMIS server. I love that. I can do a quick upload to my ftp site and access it from my phone or laptop. Now, if only it could save to other cloud services, too.

LibreOffice backup

Remote File capabilities

If you are using OpenOffice, consider switching to LibreOffice. If you are using MS Office, consider switching to LibreOffice.

Linkages:
StarOffice Wikipedia article
OpenOffice Wikipedia article
LibreOffice Wikipedia article
The Document Foundation Wikipedia article
LibreOffice
Ask.LibreOffice (the help forum)

Showing Off the Craft

I got this friend/acquaintance (seriously, I have several) who is this crafter/knitter/sew-er/creator kind of person. And a waitress who knows her stuff in that arena, too. I recently “friended” her on FB (wave at Sammi everyone). Most of her stuff on her page is all pics of her craft. Really cool stuff, really creative. Makes me uber jealous. Writers are crafters, too, but we really have no daily pics to show off. Sure, we have books as the final products but…you know, one every six years is just not enough.

So I thought I would share some of my work process.

This is the folder I have for To Dream.
– “Awakening” was its initial name but, obviously, I changed it. When I did the rewrite (Awakening is the raw-arse draft), I saved the original and started fresh, basically. I’m a document hoarder.
– “Beta” is what I sent to the Beta readers, bless their hearts. It also contains their responses in all its brutal honesty.
– “Edit chunks” is when I realized Google Drive had eaten a huge chunk of the manuscript. I was editing heavily, taking out what I had edited and putting it into a new document. I then had to go through both to figure out what pieces were missing. Yes, I saved these, too.
– “Images” are some drawings I did of maps and some houses I built in Sims3 so I had an idea of what their house looked like. Yeah, I am that freakin’ weird.

The rest are the actual current documents. The .doc files are the ones I put on my tablet. The program I use there only uses .doc format, dammit. There’s one that can use .odt but it is awkward as heck to use.
– The “~lock” ones are the currently open documents. It is how OpenOffice works in doing their autosaves and recoveries I think.
– “ack-ded” is the acknowledgements and dedication that goes into the front of the books. I keep track of this so I don’t leave anyone out. I have a short memory.
– “synopsis” is, duh, the synopsis.
– “cuts” is what I remove as I edit. I save those because sometimes there’s a word or phrase I can use later. I said I was a document hoarder, get over it.
– “edit” is, duh, the edit version.
– “wb” is the world build document
– “To Dream” is the final version before I started this edit.
– The .txt file is one that I brought over from the “To Sleep” folder. It contains some quotes about butterflies, mostly.

I use a variety of tools, just like Sammi. Although mine aren’t as colorful, dangit!
WordWeb Pro – way cool thesaurus, dictionary, reference. I have the paid version but the free one has a lot to it.
OpenOffice – a free word processing program that also has a spreadsheet (excel), database (access), presenter (powerpoint), a drawing something, and something to do math equations.
IrfanView – an image program that resizes and does other stuff. Simple and to the point, the way I like ’em
NovaMind 5 – it is called a “mindmapping” program. I call it a “brainstorming” program. Works either way.
SimpleMind – While NovaMind has a lot of bells and whistles, it doesn’t work with my tablet. SimpleMind does. So sometimes I use it instead.
Notepad 2 – a simple alternative for Windoze Notepad. Much better for those who do coding, too.
SyncBack Pro – After my disappointment with Google Drive, I needed some other way to keep everything together. My bro pointed me toward SyncBack Pro and I love it. Syncs, backups, both. Does both via FTP, too.
Dragon Premium – I recently got this again. I don’t expect my hands to completely fail but there are days where typing is impossible. And there are days where sitting is difficult. So I’d be stupid to not give it a go. The problem with Dragon is you cannot edit what you have not used it to write with so I can’t edit with it. I got the Premium because I can dictate into my phone and then load it into the program on the desktop later. My goal is to do one of the Butch Girl books completely with Dragon. One of the characters in BGCFA was Rain who had multiple disabilities including the loss of both legs. I plan on doing her book via Dragon as it feels appropriate to do so. I have two others to do first, probably three. That gives me plenty of time to learn Dragon before I jump on the Dragon Wagon. Heh.

On my Samsung Note 10.1 tablet, I use:
Kingsoft Office – good software.
LectureNotes – I am soooo freakin’ glad I found this. What a great program. And makes me glad I got the tablet with the pen! For real students, they have some other excellent software.
OpenDocument Reader – allows me to view (but not edit) .odt documents. But I can’t figure out how to point it to the external card
AndrOpen Office – OpenOffice for Android. Has nearly everything OpenOffice has which makes it clunky on the tablet. Not giving up on it yet though!
WordWeb – yep! Got it on my tablet, too! And my phone! And my iPod Touch! I really love this program.
SimpleMind – the Android version (which I don’t use as often since I found LectureNotes)

Oh, and one last thing. Want to know another reason why I prefer OpenOffice to Word? Go back up to that image. Look at the file sizes of To Dream Edit.odt and To Dream Edit.doc. See the difference? Totally unnecessary.

Software for Writers

I am making a big effort to get much more seriouser about being a writer.

First, I had to decide if this is indeed my “job” or was it a hobby, something to keep me sane(ish)? I decided that yes, writing is my job. A job that I love but a job nevertheless. I need to treat it as such.

Second, I had to look at my habits (most of them bad) and do some changes. I realized I needed to set a schedule of sorts. Not a day-to-day schedule, but a monthly and yearly one. Perhaps goals is a better word to use than schedule. Whatever.

Third, I had to look at the tools I use. Are they sufficient? Detrimental? Top notch?

Fourth, I have to get better organized. I have so many copies of drafts and rewrites and all that. I am a digital hoarder. I don’t need that many. Sure, they don’t take up much room but it’s a PITA when I need to find something or figure out which is the best version, the last version, the original, etcetera.

To accomplish these goals, I started by looking at the tools I use and trying some new ones. I briefly tried index cards. So many Big Name Authors use them that surely they were a useful tool. And I am sure they are. But for me, not so much. I don’t write by hand very well. Not only is it barely legible even to me, but I have a bad habit of gripping the pen so hard, my hand cramps before I have the first paragraph. Instead, I think I will carry a stack with me so I can do some thinking away from the desk. I have notebooks but sometimes the space needs to be bigger. Flipping over the page with a line saying “refer to x” isn’t as good as keeping it all on the same index card or even numbered index cards.

Years ago, I used a software for mind mapping / brain storming called Inspiration. I really enjoyed it and have done some cool brainstorming with it. I decided to look back into it and to also poke around to see what else is out there. Inspiration has come down in price ($40USD). I downloaded a trial version of it since I have no clue where my original disks are for the version I had. I also downloaded a trial of NovaMind 5 and another called FreeMind.

FreeMind is very simplistic yet complicated. There’s not much on the screen which keeps it uncluttered but then you have to poke around to find what you are looking for, which is not good. But it is free, which is great.

Inspiration hasn’t changed much, at least from what I remember. It is easy to use, very user friendly. This is because it is geared toward educational purposes, not business purposes. They have a slightly more grown-up version called Webspiration but I wasn’t impressed and I don’t need to collaborate with anyone. And what if I don’t have internet access? Inspiration is $40 for the boxed version and the download version. WebspirationPro is a monthly fee from $6 a month for one person, $15 per month for 5 months for mid-sized projects, and $39 a month for 12 months for larger projects. Not sure how the project size is determined. And the per month fee for the last two are per user, up to 99 users.

NovaMind frustrated the crap out of me. The only help I could find was via videos. I didn’t want to listen, I wanted to read, skim, and go right to what I was looking for vs analyzing the speaker’s Australian accent. I went to their forum to see if there were any written documentation. I found it and quickly figured out how to do what. Once I got the basics, I knew which one I wanted.

I bought NovaMind. It’s expensive. The “platinum” version is $150, the “pro” is $80, and the “express” is $40. I got the “pro” because it had almost all of the platinum and what platinum had, I don’t need.

I also am demo-ing Scrivener, a writing tool that lots of writers use. I really don’t like it. I am what they call an “organic” writer. I sit down and write. I don’t plan much ahead of time. Sometimes all I have is a title, other times a concept, other times just a “what if…”. So a software that helps me to organize ahead of time as well as as I go just is too much work. And learning it isn’t that easy. I just want to open a document and start typing. Figuring out where it should go is not what I want to do. Nor waste time doing.

Same problem with yWriter. Too many bits to keep track of. My brain just does not work that way.

What I have come down to is I will continue to use OpenOffice. I love it lots and lots. I will also use TimeSnapper, a time log/use whatever program. It will help me to track what I do during the day while sitting at the computer. It tracks whatever the active window is doing by taking screenshots and keeping track of time spent. It even gives percentages. I wrote about it a while back. Of course, I still have WordWeb (excellent program!).

I will spend this weekend getting them all to meld together with me in the middle. On Monday I will start my new job. My basic goal is to have at least 50% of the day (sitting here at the computer) working on writing. Anything over that is a bonus.

Below are links to the programs I mentioned.

Linkages:
Mind mapping software:

Word Processing / Writing software

Misc:

    TimeSnapper – $25
    WordWeb – $19 for single user, $59 for “language” pack. Also has additional dictionaries available individually or as a “bundle” for $99 (this is the best deal).
    F.lux – screen dimming software, easier on the eyes – free
    Lexia font by K-type – love this!

File Sharing Software

My brother was here visiting back in early August. One day we were talking about computers and the like and I mentioned the difficulties I’d been having with network file sharing. I used to use a decent program called Network Magic by Cisco/Linksys. It allowed file sharing, maintained the network, and did it well. Except it was flaky at times and then they stopped supporting it with no warning at all. It did great in keeping intruders out of the network but the file sharing was non-functional. When I got the laptop just prior to the GCLS con, I tried one more time to get it to work but gave up. I had been using MS Win 7 “homegroup” thing but it would, at seemingly random moments, kick everyone off the homegroup and I’d have to start over again. Plus the “share this folder” didn’t always share everything in it. And the homegroup only worked when you were, you know, home.

He said he uses a free program called Ammyy and some other program I have since forgotten the name of. VNS? VNDS? Something like that. That one he had used for a while but it was not reliable. He had just recently started using Ammyy and loved it. While on field trips, he can access files on any of the work computers that have it. Or grab a file on a computer in another part of the building without having to go to it and move it via a memory key. As long as the computer you are using and the remote computer have internet access, it connects. The only problem he has had (and I do as well) is it keeps forgetting the “contact book”. You can export the .bin file then just import it back when it has a brain fart.

No software is actually installed. There’s the initial file to download but it doesn’t install, it just runs the .exe file. Open it, run it, and it finds your IP and gives you an access code unique to that computer. You then go to Computer #2, do the same thing. Once it is “installed” and running on both computers, you access them via the unique code. He said it was a pain at first because you need both computers in the same room/building or someone at the one you aren’t. The program needs permission on the remote computer at the time of contact.

Then….done. You can view the entire computer. Open files, transfer files, run programs, everything. The only that that does not show up is the background image. No matter what the setting is, it changes the remote computer to the Windows 7 Basic color scheme. As soon as you disconnect, it goes back to whatever you had it on before.

I installed it that night on all 3 computers. Worked like a charm. (except when I got the codes mixed up and opened a connection to the computer I was on. It opened the window then had the image in the image in the image….cascade effect. Like a mirror aimed at a mirror.) The next day, I went to their cabin and could access my desktop (via the Internet) at home. Cool. I moved files, opened files, even played a game. If you click the X on the connect box, it closes it completely. If you click the minimize, it goes to the tray. It will not wake one up (like laptops that go to sleep) but it will work if the remote computer is in screen saver mode. The program has to be running on both computers before it will work. Since it isn’t installed, you have to open it again if you turn off the computer. For this desktop, that’s not a problem since I rarely turn the poor thing off.

One problem I’ve had (besides the contact book issue) is it is very sluggish. Even opening an OpenOffice file, it was moving slow. I don’t think I could actively work on a document that is on another computer because it would drive me nuts after just a few minutes. And I doubt you could play a graphic intense game (like WoW).

You have to be careful which keys you use, though. The Ctrl and the Alt keys on your keyboard won’t always work on the remote computer. There’s icons at the top to use instead.

You can’t drag and drop a file from one computer to the other. You have to use the ‘File Manager’ which works a lot like a FTP program. Easy to do.

I’ve used it a lot since I installed it. If I leave the house and know I’ll have the chance to work, I copy the latest files from the desktop to the laptop and off I go. Then, when I get home, I copy them back. You can sort the File Manager by date which makes it quick to compare time stamps. It also helps me in keeping backups of files on both computers. If I need another file that I didn’t update, and if I am somewhere that has Internet access, I can get them. Way. Cool.

http://www.ammyy.com/en/

Contact book

File manager

Main screen options

New Software Trial

I’m trying out a new (to me) software called F.lux. What it does is adjust the output of your monitor depending on the time of day. Daylight it has the full “sunlight” and night time has a “warm” tone. I tried to take screenshots but since it is the monitor, it doesn’t show up.

It is an odd program and it took me a while to figure it out. When it installs, it goes to the task menu section and is already on. You right click the icon in the tray and access the options from there. Clicking the program name in the start menu does nothing. I almost uninstalled it, thinking I had screwed it up.

Accessing the menu:

The Change Location allows you to put in your zip code, city, or GPS coords. and it will know your sunrise/sunset times.

The Change Lighting is the fun part. But it is also where I got lost again.

See the greyish dots at the daytime and nighttime? Those slide to change the settings. When you first look at it, that area is kinda further greyed out and it gave me the impression it was unavailable or already set.

The next fun part is the Preview.

You select it and it it will do a speedy time lapse and your monitor will change as the “sun” goes along the line.

There’s also the disable option like if you are doing photos at night or whatever.

Like I said, screenshots won’t work and I tried to take a photo and it really didn’t show up then, either. My screen is kinda beige-ish to orange-ish. When I click the ‘disable’ option, it slowly fades back to regular then, when I uncheck it, it slowly fades to the nighttime. It will take some getting used to. I am interested in how it does with eye strain.

One potential issue is with games. I was playing a full screen game when it dimmed. I thought we’d had a power surge or something until I remembered the software. It was sundown! Some games will be too dark and I’ll have to exit F.lux then remember to turn it back on.

I do like how it softens the white screen of OpenOffice. I used to have a ‘migraine’ color schemed I’d set up for myself but no longer use it. I think this will be better maybe.

The software is free and my download was bug free. For now, I have the firewall set to ask me whenever F.lux wants to access the internet. Their F.A.Q. page has some good information, including how to use it (duh, should’ve looked there first).

I’ll use it for a week or so then let y’all know how it goes. If any of you try it, let ME know!

Fonts

I have migraines that are mostly related to neck position. As in if I move it, I get a headache. Fun and joy all around. Some of the things I do to lessen the pain is I have my monitor’s brightness turned down, I have background colors in the word processor (although not at the moment), and something new I kinda like.

It is a new font. It is called Lexia and was developed to assist those with dyslexia. I find it real easy on my old, tired eyes and I find it especially nice when a headache is on.

screenshot of Lexia font. click for larger version

It is considered an alternative to Comic Sans.

screenshot of comic sans font

Personally, I find Comic Sans kinda hard to read and tend to make it larger (the above examples are both in 12pt). Before Lexia, I used Verdana which is a bigger font anyway.

Lexia is free and doing a Google search, I found it in a lot of places. But font sites tend to be malware sites so, as always, check it before opening. I got it from K-Type which is where several dyslexia sites suggested.

As long as I am just writing, I’ll use the Lexia. But when I am in the final edits, I’ll have to switch to whatever the publisher prefers, that way I see the layout correctly. Never ever submit anything in a bizarre font. Always always read their guidelines to see what they prefer. Some like Courier, others like Times New Roman.