New toys

funny pictures of cats with captions

The hubby and I couldn’t wait two more weeks (the date our current mobile phone contract ends). We decided to go ahead and get our iPhones. This means we have new phone numbers, but we discussed it back and forth and agreed that it wasn’t much of a hassle to let everyone know the new numbers. Plus our old numbers were from a town we don’t live in — and some of the wrong calls were getting irritating (bill collectors, principals discussing naughty children, etc). Neither of us uses our cell phones exclusively, or talk a lot, so the handful of people we had to inform wasn’t really a big deal.

And, oh wow, I can’t believe I had to wait this long to get my iPhone. To say I love it would be a massive understatement. The App Store (on iTunes) is incredible. I’m such a geek I’ve downloaded my very own copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Want to know what the 13th amendment says? I can whip that baby out in no time and tell you. Both these apps are free. In fact, all the apps I’ve downloaded are free with the exception of one. I bought (for about $5) an expense application that will allow me to track expenses at the time they occur and take a picture of the receipt to store with it. This should help me organize the actual receipts and expenses at home. (Believe me, I need this kind of thing because I’m not too organized. I stuff the receipts in a box.)

But one of the coolest things I downloaded was an app called Stanza. It’s an e-reader. Now, I’m not going to be reading books on my iPhone a lot — but when stuck in lines, or waiting rooms, or airports, it could come in handy. And Harlequin is currently giving away 16 e-books. They’ve also formatted them for Stanza. I clicked on the handy bookstore link in Stanza and it took me to a list of choices. I went to Harlequin and within moments had books on my phone. Too cool.

You can also download anything on Project Gutenberg. If you want to pay, you could read Twilight or countless other books on your phone. (I’m thinking I’m not going to pay for books that way. I’ll save that for the other toy I covet: the Kindle, about which there should be a major announcement today by Jeff Bezos and crew).

The other app I love is Pandora. Streaming radio on my phone? Oh heck yes. I have NYT headlines, a movie app that lets me know what’s currently showing in my area, the times, theaters, and trailers if I want to watch them. I have the Weather Channel; Facebook; Twitter. And yes, even the I Can Haz Cheezburger site, which is how I saw the cute reading kitty.

There are so many things I still need to learn, I’m sure, but I love this phone and all these cool things that go with it. I am such a geek. And it’s all my husband’s fault! I’d probably be clueless about techno gadgets if he hadn’t started wrapping me in his evil web years ago. Now, I’m almost as bad as he is.

Would you read books on your phone if you could? Do you like gadgets? Want a Kindle? (And I still do love real books, btw. Just think it would be neat to have a way to store a lot more books than my shelves will hold.)

What’s a Twitter?

I discovered Twitter recently. It’s a site where you write these short little blurbs about what you’re doing. And you follow other people doing the same. They follow you. You communicate. It’s cool because you aren’t necessarily communicating directly with anyone. I am, of course, following other writers, some publishers, a few reviewers. Some people are more prolific than others, that’s for sure.

eHarlequin uses Twitter to update what’s going on — I like this because I know when there’s a blog I need to read. They also announced my Call on Twitter, and my guest blogs. Totally cool.

The posts are short, no more than 140 characters, and easy to do in the course of your day. A post is called a “tweet.” The setup is easy, and it’s easy to get going. Finding people is more difficult, or was for me anyway, because I refused to let Twitter access my email for addresses. Still, I’ve managed to find plenty of people, and they’ve found me.

If you decide to give Twitter a try, look for me. My user name is LynnRayeHarris. Follow me, and I’ll follow you. ๐Ÿ™‚ So far, it’s interesting. I don’t spend much time at it; I think the nature of the short tweets helps keep it manageable.

Do you use Twitter? Do you think all these networking sites are a waste of time? Did I mention you can send Tweets using your phone? And that an American graduate student Twittered his way out of a Middle Eastern jail this past spring? What’s next, hmm? ๐Ÿ™‚

Congratulations again to Tami Brothers! She won the $25 Gift Card and will soon be shopping for books! Stay tuned for other giveaways in the future…..

Mac Love: Outlining for Pantsers

Today, we have a commercial for Mac. Specifically, for a Mac application called Scrivener. Oh, the love I feel! The L-O-V-E. Really, I could break out in an interpretive dance here (if I could dance).

I am a Pantser. Meaning I sit down with an idea, a character or two, and start writing with no rhyme or reason or idea where things are headed. Wish I could outline, but frankly, the thought of outlining freezes me into a catatonic state of inertia (is that possible, or have I just won the prize for most amazing redundancy?).

Anywho, Mac + Scrivener = love. And here is why.

The corkboard, ladies and gentlemen. You can break all your chapters down, make notes about each, and then pin them to the corkboard. You can color the pins any color you want — like red for romance, blue for suspense, etc. When you lay out those index cards with the pins (click of the mouse), you can then see your plot progression and how much you are devoting to each aspect of the novel.

The corkboard also can be viewed in outline format. Notice the colors of the outline. You can have your outline display the colors you chose for different aspects of your plot. At a glance you can see the progression and how much you are devoting to romance or suspense or subplot A, B, etc.

Another cool thing is the research area. You can pull in photos, webpages, etc, and make notes about characters or settings. I’ve started putting photos into my research area. When I want to get the mood of the swamp or of a plantation home, I click on my research tab.

The skinny: the Scrivener folks will let you download the application to try for 30 days. After that, if you want to keep it, it’s $39.95 — and anyone with MS Office knows what a bargain that is.

The truth: I downloaded the program months ago, played with it (but didn’t take the tutorial on how to really use it), and didn’t buy it. I figured I didn’t need it, even with these cool features, because I had Word and would be writing in Word because it cost so much. But, I came across a blog post the other day where someone was talking about the infamous plotting board. I’d tried it before, getting a big dry erase board and colorful stickies and graphing out the plot. It was okay for me, but I hate messing with all that real estate, you know?

So I thought about Scrivener again. And this time, I took the time to actually DO the tutorial. It’s not long, and it helps you see the full capabilities. That’s when I realized how cool the program is. I do NOT write in it, btw. I write in Word, I paste the document in chapter chunks, and then I go for the labeling and notes. I have both programs open and I go between them. It works for me. You can import a complete document into it, which I did, and you can break it out into chapters — which really helps for the labeling. I’m not sure this program will work for me in the writing stage, but in the revising stage, it’s perfect.

Further tales of the Borg

When I was in Madrid 3 years ago, I ate at Botin’s, the restaurant that Hem sends Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes to. This restaurant is right down the street from Botin’s, and I had to laugh at the sign. I guess Hemingway’s books don’t translate well since the sign is clearly for an English-speaking audience. ๐Ÿ™‚

Still, it’s brilliant, really. If you can’t lay claim to having a great American writer get drunk in your restaurant, you can at least proclaim he never was there, right?

Maybe I should make a sign for my office that says “Hemingway never wrote here.” Hmm, wonder if that will inspire me much?

Nope, probably not. I admire some of the old boy’s work, that’s for sure, but I’d have probably hated to be in his circle of friends. If writers are neurotic, and we know we are, can you imagine Hem ringing you up to discuss the rotten state of his current WIP?

::shudder::

Anyway, not being a good old lush of a writer who sloshes around cafes and hunches over a creaky manual typewriter, I decided to check out this Scrivener thing that’s been mentioned. (Jean mentioned it in comments, and I saw posts about it on one of my loops recently. And if anything can help me be more organized, and even get more accomplished, then yeehaw and where do I sign up?)

OMG.

I downloaded it immediately. Scrivener (and I’d love to link to it, but that’s something I’ve yet to figure out with Mac — control c and control v don’t cut it anymore) is this cool writer’s program that features word processing, outlining (not that I do), a corkboard for research, and then you can export your draft to more popular software, like Word, for final editing and printing (if you want). It is SO cool. There was a program being sold somewhere that was far more expensive, and far less cool, that I tried on my Toshiba a couple of years ago.

Scrivener is $34.99. You get to try it for 30 days free. I haven’t bought it yet, though I probably will. First, I wanted to see how long it would take me to learn some of the features, like the outlining. Will I really use it? OTOH, I love the look of the manuscript in the Scrivener edit mode. You can scroll through it seamlessly, and in the statistics portion of the program, Scrivener will actually tell you how many BOOK pages your manuscript would be in comparison to how many mss pages it is. You can change the parameters, too. The default is 350 words to a printed page, but you could make it anything you want.

Want to know if you’re on target for Desire? Count how many words are on a Desire page and plug it in. (You’d have to be really anal retentive, but still. You could do it if you wanted, and that’s cool.)

So far, so darn cool. Now, the goal is to actually write the book, not play around with toys and computers. Would Hemingway have gotten anything done if he’d had the Internet to goof around with? I don’t know. He managed to drink like a fish, party like it was 1999, and gamble away his living money (in the early days) while still writing for a newspaper and hammering out ground-breaking fiction.

I think I have no excuse. Any cool writing toys (computer or otherwise) you’ve discovered?

I am Borg


I’ve been assimilated. I have trod the Apple lane and been converted surprisingly quickly. I didn’t want to be converted. I was perfectly happy with PC. I didn’t see why I should spend more money to get less computer and then have my new less computer not be compatible with websites and programs, etc. (It really isn’t less computer.)

Here’s the Mac experience thus far: open the computer, plug it in, it works. That’s it. The darn thing works, right out of the box, without a lot of wrangling. We have the MacBook and an iMac. They both work, they both set up the network, they go online, they get their updates (the first time you turn them on), they’re done. No configuring needed. No fighting with DSL. When I changed to DSL, I had to put BellSouth’s stupid software on my PC. When I set up the iMac, we plugged the DSL in and it worked. No software needed. And then we set up the Airport Base Station. No software (other than what came with the base station). It just frickin’ works. I still can’t get over it.

My Mac doesn’t have lots of little icons for junk software I don’t want either. No free AOL trials, no Quicken teasers, no junk that sits there and can’t be gotten rid of. I can’t stress that enough — NO JUNK.

If I had to use one word to sum up these two computers, it’d be CLEAN. They’re clean, they work, and they make sense. The learning curve is slight, though PC does some things better in my opinion (usability things primarily, which might be things I just have to figure out and set preferences for with the Mac).

It’s true that not every website will work with Mac. I just went to Amazon.com and saw their new unboxed thing for downloading television shows. Turns out they only support Windows, which disappointed me since one of the reasons I held out against Apple was this very issue of not being able to do things I might want to do. But if I really want to watch these shows from Amazon, both my computers will run Windows. So even switching from Windows is no longer an issue because I can still have it if I want it.

Money wise, Apple still isn’t cheap. They are less expensive than they used to be in comparison to PC though. My MacBook was 1099, and I still had to pay 149 for Microsoft Office (have to have Word). If you want to run Windows on your Mac, you have to buy it. It’s 299. Apple also sells various programs, such as iLife and iWork, that you may want. The computers come with cool stuff already though. iTunes, iChat, iMovie, iPhoto, and who knows what else (still exploring). Safari is okay, but Firefox is better (and free). The free widgets are awesome. You could download a million of those.

Back when my PC crashed in February, Mac wasn’t an option to me. Expense was a big part of that. I didn’t want to spend so much on a new computer, and fortunately PC recovered anyway. But my hubby’s been campaigning for months, especially since we needed a new desktop and since my laptop has been having more glitches (keyboard losing power to certain keys, IE locking up, bluescreen). He insists that the Unix platform on which Apple is built is more stable and more secure. So I finally gave in.

I did not expect to be so comfortable so fast. Another plus on the MacBook is the battery life. When I got my PC, I bought a Centrino laptop because I wanted extended battery life. The most I ever got was right under 3 hours. This Mac has gone around 5 hours before I plugged it in. It didn’t give me a warning, but I just decided I better plug it in. I suppose I could take it to the limit and see how far it will go, but I was impressed that it would last 5 hours.

For people who like to play with their computers, who like to tinker with things and change things, maybe a Windows PC is better. I don’t know. But if you want to plug the computer in and not think twice about it, then maybe Apple is the way to go. As someone used to tell me, “You will be assimilated.” Yeah, I guess I have been. Darn it. Now if only I wasn’t so comfortable with that fact…..

Back it up, baby

Yesterday, I was minding my own business, visiting a blog and typing a response when it happened. The dreaded blue screen of death. My computer, which has always behaved itself before, went blue. I’ve had the blue screen one or two times in the two years I’ve had my laptop and it always restarts.

Not this time.

This time, it refused. It insists that a very important system file is missing or corrupt. And, as the computer manufacturers know quite well when they preload these things at the factory, if something goes wrong with the operating system you need the disk.

But there is no disk. Toshiba thoughtfully preloaded XP onto my laptop and didn’t give me a disk for that. Oh, they gave me a recovery disk. One that wipes my hard drive and returns it to its factory specs.

Uh, I don’t think so.

What’s a panicked writer to do? I back up, but the last back up of my WIP was two weeks ago. I’ve written a couple of scenes since then, scenes I could recreate if I had to, but who wants to do that? And then there are all those picture files that I can’t remember if I saved onto the desktop hard drive (it’s in a box because there’s no room to set it up at my parents’s house).

So I find a computer repair place in the local area and race down there. The guys at Valley Computers have my eternal gratitude for saving all my files. Within an hour, I had a disk with everything on it. Whew. But I still don’t know about the laptop. The guys were a bit surprised to see a Toshiba. They said they don’t get many of them for repair. Far more HPs and Dells.

But they still haven’t been able to bring the computer up. It’s stubbornly insisting on that XP setup disk. They have several, but there are always tweaks to the OS, so they keep trying to find the disk that corresponds.

In the meantime, I may have to buy a new laptop. I’m using my mother’s Sony Vaio right now and I’m finding I don’t like it much. It has some weird keyboard things, and for a 2G processor (1G memory) it’s pretty damn slow. My 1.6 512mb is faster.

My husband is excited about the prospect of buying a new Vista-loaded laptop. It does look pretty cool, and I suppose I could get used to it. Mac is not an option for me, those cute (and somewhat misleading) commericals aside. Too expensive and too proprietary. And I’ve known at least one person with a similar Mac problem like what just happened to me. It was a far more expensive crash for her since the computer cost double what mine did.

Hopefully, this is all speculation and I’ll have my laptop back soon. It’s only two years old, and for what I need it to do, it has plenty of life left in it. I’m not a graphics intensive, game-playing person.

So the lesson here, and why I began this post in the first place, is that you should be sure you back up frequently. Make sure you’ve got all those picture files somewhere, too. They are even more irreplaceable than documents. I can make up new scenes, but I can never replace pics of my cruise vacation.

I’m going to research portable storage options later. I have a flash drive, but I want something with more memory, something I can get everything on quickly and easily.

I’ll survive my first-ever computer crash, but I’ll definitely be more diligent about backups in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚