Category Archives: Application

Internet On The Go

Writers today are not chained to a location. Some write at coffee shops, others on trains, some at home, and if you’re like me — any outdoor place you can drag a pen and notebook to. This mobility is great for finding distraction free writing spots, but what about research? Not so long ago, you would simply go to the library and sift through card catalogs, files, book shelves, microfiche, and an endless piles of dusty books. Today, the Internet is the primary research tool. Fortunately we can now take the Internet with us to most of our favorite writing spots.

I think most writers are familiar with using the free WiFi services offered at popular coffee shops and restaurants. This is the easiest and cheapest way to access the Internet when out and about. Some cities are now offering WiFi hotspots in select parks. I’ll take sitting outside researching a subject instead of sitting in a library any day of the week.

But what happens when WiFi service isn’t available?

Cellular companies offer data plans with smartphones and tablets. These plans aren’t always cheap. The big carriers start around $40 a month and move up in price, but this allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to the Internet and retrieve data over a 3G or 4G network. However, surfing on smartphone can be tedious. Those little three inch screens are hard to use with aging eyes and big fingers.

Tablets are a good substitute. Much easier to use and you can purchase ones that are compatible with CDMA or GSM cellular technologies.But once you purchase a tablet using either technology, you’re stuck with it.

Cellular companies also offer an AirCard option but these can be restrictive too. AirCards plug into your laptop’s USB port or card slot. These offer a lot of flexibility, but they require a separate data plan. It’s also another piece of tech to keep track of. They can get lost, damaged, or stolen. An alternative to AirCards would be a technology called tethering. It allows you to connect your computer to your smartphone and access the Internet. Not all smartphones will allow this and not all carriers provide the service. The ones that do, charge extra for it. If you use tethering, be mindful of any data usage limits on your accounts. A browser designed for Windows, Linux, or MAC will consume more data than a browser designed for a tablet or a smartphone. You can hit that 2Gig limit fairly quick.

There’s another option that allows the flexibility of connecting any WiFi capable device. It’s called a hotspot. These are offered by every major cellular carrier. Again, they will require a data plan, but you can use these handy devices for anything. Most will accommodate multiple connections–there’s a cost in speed when using multiple devices–allowing you to share it with others. Select smartphones have the ability to be used as a hotspot thus reducing the amount of tech you need to carrier to access the Internet.

Some of the bargain carriers offer no contract hotspots.They offer scaled data plans allowing you to spend only what you need to and to use it only when you need to. Most do have a requirement that you use your hotspot once every six months or so. This is the option I use. My iPad is WiFi only and my wife and I both have laptops. When traveling I purchase what I think we’ll use. As long as we have cell service, we can access the Internet. It’s a great thing when flights get delayed and the airport doesn’t have free Internet. Or if you’re driving long distances. We drove to Florida in 2010 and had Internet access for almost the entire drive. There was one section in Mississippi that we couldn’t get any service. It was a grueling fifty minutes, but somehow we made it through.

I like the hotspot because I can pack a composition notebook, a couple of fountain pens, an iPad, the hotspot, an external battery pack and take off to any park or local hiking trail. All of it weighs less than five pounds and easily fits into any small backpack or netbook carrying case. This is great for getting away and doing some serious writing.

Taking the Internet with you does bring along all the distractions like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, email, and your favorite games. However, for me the distractions aren’t a concern. The Internet is along for quick fact checks.

Whether sitting on a hillside rock overlooking the city or a remote riverbank, great weather, scenic writing spot, pen and paper in hand, the only thing left to do is write.

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Transcribing Recorded Interviews and Notes

I’ll have to credit the topic of this post to John Wooley. During a recent presentation, he stated that transcribing takes four times the length of the taped interview. Did I hear that correctly? Taped? What are we living in, the 19th century?

It does take time to transcribe anything recorded. However, we have options and most importantly, none of them involve using tape. Today all you need is a cell phone, iPad, Android tablet, or digital voice recorder.

I’ve touched don Evernote in an earlier post. This is an amazing piece of software. It works on any platform and stores data in the cloud. I’ve recorded several meeting with Evernote. However, I must admit to never transcribing anything recorded. A quick search of Evernote’s Trunk reveals a service called Quicktate.  For a fee, they will transcribe your recordings. A word of caution about transcription services. While they save you time on transcribing audio, you have no control of what they choose to leave out. It could be something small, yet more significant than the main answer.

If you’re not into Evernote and wish to use a digital voice recorder. These are available from any online retailer or your neighborhood brick and mortar office supply store. I received an Olympus years ago as a gift. It’s a handy device. With it configured for basic audio, I can record over 70 hours of audio. Once done I can pop it into my laptop’s USB port and transfer the files. You should be able to find a DVR that creates recordings in your favorite file format.

Once the file is transferred, you’re left with the same issue of start, stop, back up, and type some more, that leads to such a long transcription time. Thanks to the world of dictation, there are solutions you can purchase for your PC. Olympus makes a kit that allows you to use a foot switch to control the playback so you can continue to type. This can be a huge time saver. But with all things that save time and increase productivity, it comes at a cost.

There are many models of DVRs made by a multitude of manufactures. Go to Amazon or Newegg and search for digital voice recorder. No matter what your previous choice of recorder, wax cylinder, wire recorders, reel to reel tape, or cassettes. None compares to the flexibility of digital devices.

You may be thinking that you can use your cell phone too. This is true. Most smartphones have recording capabilities. But they are geared more for recording notes, not lengthy interviews. How many times a day do you have to connect your phone to a charger? An hour-long meeting puts the smack down on my Android phone’s battery and electrical outlets are not always handy. However, I’ve had excellent luck with the iPad2’s battery. But if you have that all import interview that could go hours, nothing beats a DVR and a fresh AAA battery.

Microphones are another consideration. My Olympus DVR can pick up more audio than any other device I have. This includes making recordings while it sits in my shirt pocket. The mics on laptops and mobile devices can be hit or miss on quality. Some handle ambient noise better. Others may be too directional to be functional in an interview setting.

Do you use recording devices for notes or interviews? Please share any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years.

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Take the Typing out of Writing

This is the first guest post for theWriteTechnology. We’re turning over the reins to JP Jones.

JP Jones wears many hats. She’s the author of “Market Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media“. Owns Paige1Media and Paige1Publishing and is in a joint venture with Collipsis Web Solutions, LLC. If that’s not enough she also an adjunct instructor at Oral Roberts University. She has won over 100 awards for her designs and promotions. Additionally she was named one of the Top 101 Female Bloggers for 2010 by Women’s Entertainment Magazine for her bog, In Search of Design.

JP uses this software every day and provides a user’s perspective on its functionality. If typing is not your thing, the solution she discusses here may be for you.

Take it away JP!

* * *

There are tools that every writer needs in their arsenal. Pens and paper have long since been replaced by more digital means of writing through the use of personal computers and now laptops and tablets. Unfortunately, as technology use increases many writers have found themselves dealing with new problems—from carpal tunnel syndrome to eye strain issues as the spend more and more time clicking away on a keyboard.

If this describes your work habits, you’re in luck. While there are numerous dictation softwares available, perhaps the most notable of these is Dragon Dictate (for Mac) & Dragon Naturally Speaking (for PC) from Nuance Software.

How it Works:

Dragon Dictate assists you in creating a voice profile to ‘teach’ the software your specific inflections and accent beginning with a base voice profile. During the setup, you will be asked to read aloud several passages at a specific speed. This process allows the software to analyze your voice and will give you the most accurate results. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect medium, but the more that you train the software to pick up on your inflections, the more accurate it will be when it comes to translating your words into written text.

How it’s Available:

Like any good software in today’s technology age, Dragon dictations software is available for your PC, Mac, Smart phone, or iPad. Being an Apple girl myself, I have enjoyed using the software on four platforms: the full software suite on my MacBook Pro and iMac and the mobile app for iPhone and iPad.

My Experience:

I purchased the software after a year’s worth of 18-hour days in front of the computer took it’s toll on my wrists. I was desperate for a solution that would allow my wrists to heal and still allow me to get tasks accomplished—not to mention writing—on my computer.

In addition to being able to dictate written documents, the full-featured software actually has a complete catalog of commands that will allow you to control your computer hands-free should the need arise. While there is definitely a learning curve involved—and in some cases it’s slower and bit more frustrating than doing it the old-fashioned way—if you find yourself in a position where you need to save some of the pressure on your extremities the software is a great alternative.

Like many, while that was my initial reason for purchasing the dictation software, I later found it to be an invaluable tool for speeding up my writing, without developing the painful side effects associated with too much typing. If you’re like me, chances are that you can actually talk much faster than you can type and in many cases it’s easier to get your thoughts out in a cohesive unit without the distraction of a potential misspelled word or missing keystroke.

After getting hooked on the dictation software on my computer, I soon installed the mobile apps on both my iPhone and iPad. While the apps are not terrible, there is a definite difference in their accuracy. Since they are not specifically trained for your voice and your inflections, you’ll find that their sensitivity to your words are not nearly as good. Thus, rewarding you with many more errors and potentially confusing sentences. However in a bind, or during travel, it is still a great alternative to trying to type—especially on the smaller devices.

What to Watch For:

With any dictation software, the software is relying often on the context clues and sentences you are crafting. In that case, it’s important to speak in a natural pace and allow the dictation software to determine your stops and starts. It does take a bit of getting used to you, especially to develop the habit of actively speaking out punctuation. For instance, while dictating this particular sentence, I have to verbally say words like “comma” and “period” to add proper punctuation. This is a new twist since thankfully, in casual conversation, we don’t have to voice those punctuation marks!

It’s also imperative after completing any dictation with the software, to go back and thoroughly edit the text. Because it’s not perfect, it can easily get words that sound similar confused, and there’s always the occasionally awkward sentence structure that it throws in seemingly with a mind of its own. I use the dictation software personally for a lot of guest posts on a variety of blogs and magazines that I write for. My most embarrassing dictation mistake to date, actually made it through my editing as well as the bloggers editing and was posted live until someone caught it. In an article talking about my business and its success, a sentence that was supposed to read ” I’m very happy with my life.” Actually read instead, ” I’m very happy with my wife.” Awkward, to say the least considering I’m a female.

If you’re interested in checking out the software for yourself, don’t take my word for it. There are several trial versions available that will allow you to get a feel for it and see if it would be a good gift for your writing habits. Good luck and happy dictating!

http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/by-product/dragon-for-mac/dragon-dictate/index.htm

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Dump That Brain

Have you ever had a great idea for a story that kept spawning plot points along with the perfect protagonist and the most wonderfully annoying antagonist? This burst of creativity keeps swimming around in your head continually building on itself. It’s consuming all your brain power just to keep it straight. You’re jotting notes down on every piece of scrap paper you can find. Smoke wafts from your keyboard as your fingers go numb from the hours long session. Off to the side, you family watches and wonders if you have some new form of OCD. When the brain dump is finally over, you’re left with a mix of handwritten notes, a long typo ridden narrative that you won’t understand a week from now.

There is an easier way. Mind mapping. No I’m not talking about hiring a cartographer to translate your latest CT scan. Mind mapping is a concept that has been around, in various forms, for some time. Anyone that’s been involved in project management has probably seen an Ishikawa diagram, or fishbone diagram. Don’t worry I’m not going to dig into the intricacies of cause and effect as it applies to risk analysis.

Mind mapping is an easy thing to do. Chances are you’ve done it with pen and paper. It involves creating a central idea and then associating other ideas and concepts. You can draw pictures, use color coded lines, and different fonts. There is no limit to what you can do.

Here’s a sample mind map created with FreeMind for Windows.

There really is no limit what you can do with mind mapping. Google mind map and you’ll get a variety of choices you can use. Software is available for almost any platform, including iOS and Android, allowing you to use your finger and tablet while waiting to see the doctor or while the kids are practicing their seasonal sport.

Good software will allow you to quickly move your ideas and branches around. Keep in mind there will be a learning curve, so take some time to learn your software. However, if you find you just can’t figure it out, try another program. On my iPad I use Mindjet to quickly capture project ideas for my day job. If you’re all Apple, all the time, this could be a good solution for you. But there will be some cost.

A low tech ways of mind mapping include white board. Using a Sharpie on whatever surface is at hand. Paper and pen. If you want flexibility and low tech, try note cards. Simply put one idea per card and then you can arrange the cards however you need to. Of course this will require a large table or bulletin board. Levenger‘s has a nice note card bleacher for this purpose.

Unless you’re an author who rigidly follows the original outline, stories evolve, plot points change, character traits change, and settings get altered. Mind mapping quickly allows you to see all this in a visual form and easily rearrange or change it. Next time you’re kicking an idea for a story around, or creating a main character, give it a try.

Do you currently use mind mapping or similar techniques? Please leave a comment and tell us about your methodology or favorite program.

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Speed Up Your Editing in Word

I’ll state this up front. This post is about Microsoft Word. If you don’t use Word feel free to exit this blog quietly. But please do so in a manner as not to disturb the other readers.

Over the years I’ve used a variety of word processing programs. All have their quirks, strengths, and complex functions that make you want to break your keyboard in half and pound your computer into compost. Don’t worry we not going to get into complex functions. Instead we’re going to go over several handy keyboard shortcuts to increase you editing speed.

For clarity purposes let me explain how I’ll denote these shortcuts. For some of you this may be obvious, but for others I have met, they have only used mouse functions.

Control Key = CTRL,  Alt Key = ALT, you get the idea. I use the plus sign ‘+’ to denote combinations. So CTRL+C means to use press and hold the control key then press the C key.

Some of the shortcuts do require mouse interaction so here is an explanation on my terminology.

All mouse clicks will be for the left button unless noted.

Single click = single left click, Double click = two left clicks, again you get the idea.

Click and Hold = push down on the mouse button and hold it.

Why use keyboard short cuts? For me, moving my hand back and forth from keyboard to mouse to keyboard gets a bit annoying.  Especially if all you want to do is switch to underlining or italic. Also if you’re trying to select text, clicking and dragging that cursor to select everything can be tedious. So let’s start with some easy ways to select text.

Word makes it easy to select a single word, sentence, paragraph or all the text in the document.

To select a single word, double-click the word.

To select a single sentence, CTRL+Single Click on any part of the sentence.

To select an entire paragraph, triple click the paragraph.

To manually select individual characters, words, sentences, or paragraphs, SHIFT+Arrow Key. Using SHIFT+Down-Arrow is a quick way to select multiple lines within a paragraph.

Once you have your text selected you can right-click on it. A pop up menu will appear providing all kinds of options. Did you know you can click and hold on your selected text and drag it to a new location in the document? This can be handy when moving sentences around in a paragraph or rearranging action sequences in a scene.

When editing, I typically hit CTRL+A, this is the short cut for Select All. It highlights every word in your document. Once all the text selected, I right-click, select Font, and increase the font size to an 18 or 20 point size. This makes it much easier to catch typos that spell check missed, find those pesky punctuation faux pas, and any hapless homophones to — or is that pronounced too? Anyway, after I’m done editing, CTRL+A, right-click, Font, and it’s back to 12 point.

I’ll finish this out with a simple list of shortcuts. If you have any handy tricks for Word, please post a comment.

CTRL+C = Copy
CTRL+X = Cut
CTRL+V=Paste
CTRL+B=Bold
CTRL+I=Italic
CTRL+U=Underline
CTRL+Z=Undo last change
CTRL+Y=Redo last Undo
CTRL+F=Find
CTRL+S=Save
CTRL+O=Open File
CTRL+A=Select all

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Every Writer Needs a Little Focus Once in a While

You’ve waited all day. You’ve thought of every way to kill off your protagonist’s love interest. Car wreck—too convenient. Serial killer—too cliché. Freak can-opener accident—no one will see that one coming. It’s all worked out in your mind, waiting to be downloaded to your manuscript.

Now the kids are in bed, the spouse is off reading somewhere; it’s just you, the keyboard, and a word processing window partially filling an icon dotted screen. Time to get to work.

But wait—there’s the Quicken icon and you still haven’t balanced last month’s statement.

Done. Time to write.

But wait—there’s the IE icon and you’ve only checked Facebook 18 times today and still haven’t seen anything about your Aunt’s cupcake baking retreat.

Done. Time to Write.

But wait—it’s now 1:30AM and you have a presentation at 8:30AM. Writing will have to wait.

A quick game of solitaire to clear your mind and then it’s off to bed.

Sound familiar? It shouldn’t.

How would you like to sit down to a screen full of this:

All black screen with white text.

Or if you need some inspiration:

Theme with custom image.

This is what FocusWriter can provide. It’s basic. It fills your screen. It blocks out distractions. Best of all, it’s free, the gnu license is a wonderful thing. (But if you like it, you may want to contribute to the tip jar).

It’s a basic word processor that has all the features you would expect, foreground, background, text colors; font formatting; text indenting and offsetting; smart quote formatting; dictionary; you get the idea. It can save files in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or OpenDocument Text (.odt). Both are common file types almost any word processor can use. Most publishers accepting electronic submissions will take rft too.

A couple of nice features. FocusWriter fills your entire screen with nothing but document space. The menu bar disappears unless you navigate your mouse to the top of your screen. This frees you to type, type, and type some more. The other cool feature is a built-in timer. This permits you to schedule your breaks.

There is a bit of assumed knowledge when it comes to installation. There are multiple Linux packages, chances are one will work on your flavor of the OS. There is a Universal MAC install or one just for Intel platforms. I do not have access to a MAC. Maybe a MAC User can leave a comment on how easy or difficult it was to install.

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported. The download file is a standard ZIP file. There is no install routine, you simple expand/uncompress/unzip your download file to a directory of your choice. Once unzipped, open Explorer, navigate to that directory and double-click on FocusWriter.exe.

Now your screen is filled with a word processor and you’re ready to write. If not, then you need to take the ruler out of the desk drawer with your right hand and slap it down hard on the backside of your left hand. Repeat until you are focused on your writing. After all you have a work in progress to complete. Now get to it.

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