Tag Archives: Android

Creativly Link You Social Network Accounts

Most social media sites have made it easy to link your accounts. But what if you want to link more than just Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? What if you want to link your Google reader account to Twitter and use a specific hash tag? Or Instapaper to Facebook pages?

Face it, not all social media sites play well together. WordPress plays well with your primary Facebook account and Twitter, but isn’t so cooperative with Facebook Pages. And what if you don’t want to link all your accounts together? Do you really want every Tweet going out to all your social media feeds?

Some creative folks out west have created a solution just for this. The site ifttt.com is still in beta, but it is one of the most innovative services on the Internet. The service is currently free. Simply create an account and your off and running. You can create tasks that link different social media sites. They refer to the differing services has channels. Basically you ink your ifttt account to a service in the channel list. Then you create a task with a trigger.

For those of you who follow theWriteTechnology on Facebook and Twitter (@theWriteTech) you may have noticed some posts have ‘via ifttt’ associated with them.  I have created tasks that automatically check for blog updates and then post to my Facebook Page for the tWT. I’ve also create tasks that link my Google Reader account to Facebook Pages and Twitter using tags. When I’m reading an article in Google Reader I think needs to be reTweeted from @theWriteTech I add the appropriate tag and the magic happens. It reTweets the article for me. I have created separate trigger tags that add different Twitter hash tags. For example, if I think an article is good for the #writetip, I have a unique trigger tag that automatically adds the #writetip hash tag to the Tweet. The same goes for publishing tips. There’s a separate trigger tag that can reTweet an article with the #pubtib hash tag.

This site saves a lot of time when it comes to sharing information with other writers. If I’m sitting in the doctor’s office reading an article or simply browsing posts over lunch, by adding a tag in Google Reader I can share the information over any social media channel I have linked to ifttt.com.

The site currently has channels for over 40 services. This includes WordPress, Gmail, Pinboard, Facebook, Google Reader, Readability, Twitter, Delicious, Evernote, YouTube, LinkedIn, and more. No longer do you have to remember to post something when you get back to your computer. Now you can do it from your smartphone or tablet with ease. This site will reduce the time you spend on social media and allow for more writing time.

Now stop thinking about your next excuse for burning through your writing time and get down to business. Close out you browser and open your word processor. You have magazine articles to sell and novels to pen.

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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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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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If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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Don’t Sign That Contract!

Writers live on a budget. There are times when money is tight and you’re looking for a contract to sign. However, there is one contract you should never sign. That’s right by not signing a contract, you’ll be saving money — on your cell phone.

Over the years I’ve heard author after author claim this one particular piece of technology helps them manage the social networking aspect of being a writer. It’s used for Facebook updates, a blog reader, Twitter, Google+, email, texting, and believe it or not, a phone. But you don’t have to pay $80-$200 a month to get the service you need. And you don’t have to be locked into a restrictive contract. Yes, I’m talking about prepaid cellular service.

Before your imagination runs off with images of the worst customers Wal-Mart has to offer and a constant lack of bars, keep reading. You can purchase prepaid cellular service just about anywhere, including online and signal coverage can be as good as one of the big four cell providers.

A year ago I upgrade to an Android phone and switched to Virgin mobile. Their plan of 300 voice minutes and unlimited data/text fit my usage perfectly. Now I did have to buy the phone, but I waited until it went on sale for $180. The price for this plan, at the time I purchased the phone was $25. That’s right. I pay $25 a month for unlimited data and text. I’ve never gone over the 300 minute voice limit. So let’s compare.

(At the time unlimited voice and data averaged about $80/mo before taxes.)

Prepaid                                                              Standard Contract

Phone:    $180                                                     Free with contract

Service:  $325 (13 months at $25)                  $1,040 (13 months at $80)

Total:     $ 505                                                      $1,040

Savings: $535

I can go out and purchase another $200 phone and still be saving money compared to a standard contract plan. But you’re thinking, That was thirteen months ago, the economy has changed things. No one can get a deal that good these days.

You’re right, things have change. Virgin Mobile has raised this plan from $25 to $35. That means in 13 months you’ll pay $455 instead of $325. I don’t know about you, but that is still significant savings and could easily pay for lodging at the next writers convention. Keep in mind that voice/text/data contract plans are much more expensive these days.

You also may be thinking that the coverage sucks. Virgin rides on the Sprint network and I haven’t had any more coverage problems than my wife has had her ATT contract phone. If we’re out in the sticks, usually one of us will have service.

The Virgin Mobile plans may not be right for you, the company is geared toward the young crowd. Some of the other services out there are T-Mobile, ATT, TracFone, Net10, Straight TalkBoost, and the list goes on. Heck just Google “prepaid cell providers” and your eyes will glaze over before you can compare all the pricing plans. You can also check out Clark Howard, he always has the latest scoop on the cheap cell phones.

Most of the prepaid companies have agreements with Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and Verizon to use their networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to the coverage maps for your areas. Be brutally honest on how you use for phone. Some prepaid services will charge you a daily usage fee if you make a call. If you’re on your phone hours a day, this may not be an issue, but if you’re like me you may make one or two short calls a day, if any. The extra fee adds up quickly. Also, do not overestimate your data usage. Cell phones are fairly efficient on data usage. But if you must have unlimited everything, Straight Talk has a plan for $45 a month and Virgin has one for $55.

I’m not saying this is the best way to go and there are some draw backs. You have to buy the phone outright. You lose it, break it, or don’t like it after six months…tough. You’re stuck with it. Also the prepaid service doesn’t get the same data priority as the contract customers. For the most part this has not been an issue for me. However, if you are moving a lot of data, being throttled may cause problems. A huge draw back for some people is the fact you are limited on the phones you can purchase. You cannot go out and buy the latest iPhone off Craigslist and active it the next day. If you want an iPhone, you’re stuck with a contract. If you can use an Android or Blackberry you’ll have a few of options. And don’t just look at the specifications of the phone you’re thinking about. Read customer reviews. These can be found by searching for the phone model and the word reviews.

Smartphones are very much required tech for the modern writer. Are you paying over $1,000 a year when you don’t need to? Look over your last few statements. Pay attention to the voice, data, and text totals. Maybe you could save hundreds, over the course of a year, by dumping the contract and going to prepaid.

Now stop reading blogs and playing Angry Birds on your phone and get back to writing.

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Basic File Backup and Sharing

Last entry I touched on Evernote. This entry I’ll discuss a file service called Dropbox.

Dropbox has been around for a few years. It’s not flashy and feature rich, just basic file storage and sharing. However, it does these services quite well. There is a free option with tiered pricing so you only pay for what you need to use. The basic free service offers 2GB of storage. The next tier is 50GB for $9.99/mo or $99/yr. You can see all of their pricing options here. I use this service on a limited basis for a number of years and have not exceeded the 2GB basic limit.

So what can this service do for writers? It provides a basic, no frills way to store files in the cloud and access them on various devices. Dropbox has clients for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, MAC, or Linux. Or, if you prefer, simply use any browser to access it from an Internet capable device.  Additionally there are third-party apps that utilize Dropbox for cloud storage. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that page of their website is being rebuilt. Two iPad apps I use, Mindjet (a mind mapping tool) and Notify, (a freehand note taking app) use Dropbox to sync files with. If I lose my iPad, I can still access my data.

Dropbox allows you to store files or create folders to organize your files. These folders can be shared, allowing others to collaborate on your current work in progress. These folders can be automatically synchronized to everyone’s computer, assuming they are using one of the Dropbox computer clients. A handy way to ensure everyone is working with the latest files. The service keeps an archive of your files for one month, permitting you to undo your last edit. Or if your computer happens to have a bad day and starts randomly deleting files, you have a back up.

Speaking of backups, you can use the Dropbox folder on your PC to store your current work and Dropbox will automatically sync it with cloud. A simply, no cost, way to back up your files. If your computer blows up, get a new one, install the Dropbox client, and download your files. If you wish to backup your entire computer, including your operating system, there are other services that are better suited to that task.

How do I use Dropbox? Mainly as a parking spot for files that I need to access on various platforms or transfer between devices. Utilizing the benefits provided by my day job creates paperwork I have to submit to HR. I scan these documents and store on Dropbox. I then pull them down and store them digitally on my home network. The service also comes in handy to retrieve documentation for the projects I have to support. I can store project information in the form of a PDF or Microsoft Word document and then access it using my laptop, Blackberry, iPad, or personal Android phone. This can come in handy for traveling. Dragging hundreds of pages of documentation along for a plane ride, can be a pain. Not only in low back from all the extra weight you’re carrying around, but with today’s baggage fees, it can hurt the wallet too.

Do you use Dropbox or another service like it? How do you use the service to increase your productivity?

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