Hardware, Software and Brainware

I was browsing the statistics for this site.  It’s amazing what information you can find, though I’m not sure how relevant some of it is.  For example, between the creation of Imagineer-ing, in March 2012, and the end of December, this site had a total of 651 hits.  So far, in January 2013, we’ve had a phenomenal 444 to 29th January!  This is further analysed to give an average of 2 visits per day in 2012 – but that doesn’t mean much as there’s a definite rise towards the end of the year.  Even the January 2013 average of 15 visits per day is deceptive, as the number of visits continues to rise.

The question of what software is of any real use to authors is raised by such online analytical data.  Personally, as an ex-statistician, I confess that I find some of it fascinating.  It doesn’t, however, contribute anything to writing, other than blogging.  Of more interest, perhaps, is the facilities available to authors.

Hardware

I use a desktop PC more than anything else.  I can, though, also use a netbook that is synchronised to the desktop.  The first uses Windows XP and the second uses a cut down Linux.  Apart from these, I could use my iPhone or iPod, though I find those less user friendly.  You could also use a notebook, a tablet or a laptop, if they are available to you.  Outside the realm of computers, there’s also the option of using a typewriter or even handwriting.  Your preference is exactly that – yours!  What should be noted, however, is that your manuscript (MS) must, at some time, be processed for publication.  A handwritten MS will be costly to have worked up into a typed/printed form, unless you’re willing to do it yourself.  Then, there’s the question of formatting.  From what I’ve seen, this varies surprisingly widely.  The one thing that is certain is that you will need your MS to be formatted to suit a publisher’s requirements – even if you self-publish.  You can, of course, write your MS in a word processing package on computer already formatted in the most common way.  That would certainly save some effort.  The matter of formatting is something where software can help.

Software

First and foremost, you’ll need some kind of word processing package.  Of course, many computers come with things like MS Word already installed.  If you don’t have that, then there are some excellent options that are free to download and use.  Probably the biggest, and most reliable, is OpenOffice.  A version of this is called Libre Office, but I confess I’ve found no differences between them.  Other options exist, such as AbiWord, and there are some packages specifically designed for authors, though the latter are not free software.  I, personally, would not recommend using software that produces Adobe PDF files.  I’ve experienced some annoying errors in ebooks that have been converted from PDF.

I use OpenOffice, coupled with the pay-for ebook creation package, Jutoh.  This allows me maximum freedom.  I can write on any device, with the files being shared between all devices, and then Jutoh will help me produce ebooks in a variety of common formats.  That saves me some huge headaches!  Personally, I think Jutoh is worth every penny.  These, together with various desktop eReader programs, mean that I can write, create an ebook in different formats, and check how they will look on eReaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the kobo.

Finally, I use Calibre to organise my collection of ebooks, including updating their metadata  and converting between formats where desired.

Brainware

Sound silly?  Well, perhaps it is, in a way.  What I mean, here, is the core of all writing activity.  It’s a plain fact that none of the above have any relevance if your Brainware isn’t what it needs to be.  It’s the home of creative thought, creating structures, and just plain dreaming.  If you mistreat it, you can be sure that your writing will reflect that.  I don’t say that it has to be perfect!  Some of the great writers were somewhat disturbed, mentally.  They are the “flawed geniuses” who create works of immense power and significance.  As for the majority of us, we need to place ourselves in a situation in which our Brainware can function comfortably, usually where distractions are minimised and you’re physically comfortable.  Whether you need a neat, tidy workspace or chaos, all that matters is that your Brainware will function for you.

~ Steve

The kobo mini eReader – and a bit more

Well, I hope everybody has enjoyed the last couple of days.  Our Christmas Day was very quiet, just myself and Jenny this year.  Boxing Day (more properly, St. Stephen’s Day) was a bit more busy as we visited our daughter and her family – which exposed us to two grandchildren and several other people, who were in high spirits!

To the matter of this post’s title.  I was delighted to receive the kobo mini eReader from Jenny!  I’d used an iPod Touch and an old iPhone for reading ebooks, but it was less than perfect, especially with the battery running down quickly.  The kobo was another matter entirely!

kobominiThe mini eReader comes packaged as simply as possible.  You get the eReader and a usb cable, plus a couple of leaflets and the normal guarantee information.  Personally, I believe that the usb cable is too short, giving little chance of having the eReader at a distance from the computer.  You have to connect using the usb cable to charge the device.  I haven’t tried any other method – I have a mains adaptor which allows Jenny’s Kindle and my iPod Touch and iPhone to charge quicker but I’m not sure that’s safe with the kobo, and I can also charge some devices through a usb port in our car but I’m again not sure it’s sage for use with the kobo.  Apart from the length of the usb cable, it’s a pity that the user manual doesn’t come in paper form with the eReader.  I eventually found it as a PDF on the kobo site and it provided information that’s actually quite essential for effective use of the device.  I can only assume that it’s not included as a means to maintain an economical price.  The eReader’s screen is protected by a transparent film but I found that this started to hinder use of the device after an couple of hours or so.  I’m not sure whether this means that commercially available screen protectors would be worth getting for the kobo.

Your first task on receiving, or buying, your device is to attach it to a computer using the usb cable.  This, of course, means that you either have to have a computer yourself or you need somebody with one to help you!  Having connected devices, you are then guided through downloading and installing the kobo desktop app.  You really need Adobe Digital Editions too!  You need to register with kobo, so you’ll need an email address, even if you don’t have a computer yourself.  The rest of the setup procedure is quite simple and is accomplished fairly quickly.  If you have a Facebook account, you can connect to it with your eReader, so you can post to your timeline when you are reading particular books.

Unlike the Kindle, the kobo mini eReader is a touch screen device.  The “home” screen is quite nice, with access to the device’s settings much better than the system used on the Kindle, in my opinion.  There’s a limited set of options available on a single tap, plus more advanced options as an offshoot of that.  I did find it rather odd that the four “extras” were buried in the advanced settings menu.  Then again, having used the built-in browser, it’s not a big deal.  The web browser is probably the worst aspect of the device!  At normal zoom, it flickers and is almost invisible. That was quite a disappointment.  The home screen also displays the health of the battery and any wifi signal strength.  The top of the screen offers options of “Reading” or “Bookstore”, with the former automatically selected and the latter leading to the kobo bookstore.  From “Reading”, you can opt to enter your library, go to kobo’s “Reading Life” record of your activities, or synchronise the device with your computer, either via the usb cable or, if you have the facility, by wifi.  From “Bookstore”, you can opt to “Discover”, Browse or Search, plus there’s an opportunity to browse current offers.  If you have placed books in your Wishlist, this will be indicated right at the bottom.

On the “Reading” screen, tapping on the Library option offers you the opportunity to browse through all the books you have loaded, any newspapers or magazines, any previews you’ve downloaded or go to your list of library “shelves”.  These shelves are set up by you.  They allow you to organise your books more efficiently. I tend to just use author shelves, but you can use whatever system you prefer, and the books may appear on more than one shelf.  Using shelves is certainly advisable if you have a large number of books on the device.  “Reading Life” has two options: Reading Stats or “Awards”.  The latter reward you for being active on kobo, allowing you to collect “badges” or “trophies”.

On the “Bookstore” screen, “Discover” permits you to access a list of similar books to what you’re reading or a list of books recommended for you by kobo.  “Browse” lets you do so by using Categories, Reading Lists or a selection of Free ebooks.  “Search” is obviously your opportunity to search either the kobo bookstore or your device’s library.

When you open a book, the screen starts uncluttered.  Tapping on the left takes you backwards, on the right takes you forwards.  Tapping the centre brings up additional options and information.  The top left shows the Home icon so you can leave the book  (opening it again will return you to where you left off) and the top right shows any wifi signal, battery health and the standard setup box.  Along the bottom, the left shows what percentage of the book you’ve read and the right offers four icons giving access to reading options.  First, an open book icon, accesses a menu of “Table of Contents”, “Annotations”, “Search in Book”, “Definition” and “Translate Word”.  The table of contents pops up in its own screen and allows quick navigation.  Annotations gives access to any notes you’ve made or highlighted passages.  Definition accesses the dictionary and Translate Word does what it says.  Next, the double-headed arrow icon pops up an information box on your location in the book and a slider to let you navigate faster.  The double A icon lets you change font, font size, line spacing, margin sizes and paragraph justification.  The final icon, a spanner, accesses miscellaneous general options.

I think that’s enough detail about the mini eReader.  A little exploration and experimentation is worthwhile.  I’d prefer to go on to some personal observations, now.

The eInk  display works very well, except for the web browser.  Light isn’t an issue, other than when it’s very dark.  Not being backlit, you will need a light of some kind in a dark room.  My device froze a few times, without obvious cause but perhaps because I was working too fast for it, forcing me to remove the back cover and use the reset switch hidden under it.  The power slider is OK, but could possibly do with having a ridge or ridges at one end.  The touch screen is just sensitive enough.  All in all, I like the kobo mini eReader!  The weakest part of it all is the kobo desktop app.  You can add ebooks (in the right formats) from any source to the device.  This is a fact which kobo make much of.  Unfortunately, the desktop app doesn’t recognise anything unless it’s obtained through the kobo bookstore!  This means that the synchronisation is rather pointless in some respects.  Your library, and any shelves, will differ from eReader to desktop unless you only shop through kobo!  You can use Adobe Digital Editions to add ebooks from other sources, but it still won’t update the kobo desktop app library.  Personally, I regard this as a major failing that kobo need to fix as soon as possible.

I’m happy to recommend the kobo mini eReader.  It’s just the right size – not too small and still pocket sized.  Like the original Kindle, the eInk display works well in almost all circumstances.  Using it is simple and the display is easy on the eye.  It isn’t all-singing-and-all-dancing, but it’s exactly what it should be for any serious reader.

~ Steve

More Places To Get eBooks

We’re happy to announce that Steve’s short story ebooks are becoming available from more sources!  All three are not only available on Smashwords and Goodreads, they are also available from Diesel eBooks Store.  In addition, Skylord and To Sail The Dark Sea are available from iTunes.  Skylord is also available in the USA and Canada from the Sony Reader Store.

There is every likelihood that these ebooks will be available from more and more sources as time passes.  We will try to keep you updated about the sources but it’s possible that some web sites may be overlooked.  We won’t list all the offshoots of Smashwords, as these are essentially part of Smashwords – they’re just under different names and addresses.

We are looking into offering downloads from the main Imagineer web site.

Synchronised and happy

Yesterday I finally got around to figuring out how to get the most out of using any platform to do my writing on!  Quite simple really, and I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me so long…

I use Dropbox to transfer files between machines.  For example, my desktop PC, iPhone, iPod and netbook can all share files with each other simply by dropping them into a Dropbox folder.  Depending on file size and connection speed, it isn’t long before I can access such files from any of the machines!  Excellent stuff.  The one problem has been that only the desktop PC is really good at uploading several files at a time.  Well, that was the case.  The netbook doesn’t play well with Flash, so uploading multiple files through the Dropbox web site wasn’t an option.  Yesterday, however, I found and installed the Linux version of Dropbox’s app.

Basically, by creating a folder in Dropbox for anything I want to synchronise the files for, and pointing the relevant software, like Jutoh or OpenOffice, at that folder on each machine, I can make sure that I’m only using the latest version of a file/project.  The one rule that I have to remember is that I shouldn’t have the file/project open on more than one machine at a time!

I now feel as if things are just about where I want them to be.  I can stop worrying about whether I’ve remembered to copy files backwards and forwards!  Whatever I do, wherever I do it, the file/project is (virtually) instantly updated everywhere.

If you haven’t thought of using a service like Dropbox, I strongly recommend that you do so!  One thing to remember though.  Dropbox is not designed to be an online backup service!  It provides file sharing and synchronisation.  If you want backups, you need to do that some other way!  Your Dropbox synchronised filesa are stored online, but they are also stored locally on any machine with the desktop app installed (PC, Mac, laptop, netbook, etc.) so if Dropbox ever vanishes, you will still have your files available to you, but proper backing up is very much a desirable habit!

Arriving Via Unexpected Means

Some months back, I was kindly given an old Acer Aspire One netbook, running Linpus Linux.  It was my intention to use it for writing when away from my desktop PC.  OK, so it had OpenOffice Write on it, but it was an old version and caused a few problems.  No problem, just update it?  You’d think so, but the previous owner had done as Acer instructed and protected it with a system wide admin password, and had forgotten what the password was!  Every attempt to install new or updated software just met with that password and failed.

Yesterday, I was reading the Jutoh book on my iPhone.  It referred to installing Jutoh on Linux.  When I got home, I investigated further and discovered in Jutoh’s FAQ that a whole section was devoted to installing on this very netbook and OS!  Still with very limited hope, I followed the instructions and, with just a few modifications for differences in folder names, Jutoh actually installed!

A bit more investigating, and I also learnt how to install fonts that weren’t available on the netbook, and I now have a fully functional mobile solution for writing.  I cannot thank Julian Smart of Anthemion Software Ltd (creator of Jutoh) enough!  Not only has his advice on this been immensely useful, he has been enormously patient with my many questions about using Jutoh, most of which have been a consequence of not reading the book/FAQ before asking!

I can now master my writing in Jutoh and know that there won’t be any problems with porting files over from machine to machine.  It’s a fantastic advance!

Oh, by the way, I should point out that I use Dropbox to move files between machines/devices.  It’s a superb method to share files with my PC, netbook, iPhone and iPod Touch, and also with other people!