Dropbox and “No Post Sunday”

I know it’s shocking, but yes, I really did miss posting yesterday!  Fortunately, the Earth is still rotating and there has been no evidence of creatures from the abyss bringing Eternal Night to us.  It was a conspiracy of circumstances.  I had no posts already prepared that I could schedule to appear and I was actually able to go and visit my daughter and her kids.

It was a very enjoyable day out.  During a shopping expedition by my wife and daughter, I was left at something of a loose end, so I blessed the fact that I’d had the foresight to take my netbook with me.  I’ve had an idea kicking around in my skull for a little while, for a children’s story.  I decided to take this opportunity to work on that.  After all, being for kids, it wouldn’t exactly be massive!  I was getting on very nicely, too.  Right up to the point at which… the netbook’s battery died!  I think it’s safe to say that, if I was so inclined, I would have chosen this moment to curse most luridly.  Cursing not being something I ever do, I just sighed and closed the thing.  I haven’t yet dared to see whether I lost anything.

That got me to thinking – a dangerous exercise.  One thing that has plagued computer users since we progressed beyond the abacus is making sure that we don’t lose our precious work.  We are notorious for not backing up our files.  It’s understandable, to a degree, in that it can be a tedious process, and costly if you use an online service that charges according to the storage space you need.  But it’s beyond necessary.  It’s vital!  I count myself fortunate,and surprisingly prepared, because I use the excellent Dropbox service.  Not only do I enjoy some degree of security, in case smoke pours from my computer and the hard drive suddenly resembles a Daliesque perversion of itself, I can take advantage of a characteristic of Dropbox.  Not only are my files automatically backed up, I can access them from anywhere!   In fact, I can access them from any device with the Dropbox app installed on it, or through a web browser.  I can also elect to share with others, directly.  For example, I’m having two more novelettes made ready to be produced in paperback.  That means files flying back and forth.  At first, it was cumbersome – using email and a file sharing site.  When we discovered that we both used Dropbox, however, everything was streamlined beautifully!  One or other of us simply copies the file(s) to a special shared folder and its “job done”.  As the app starts when the computer is switched on, the files are immediately synced – even before everything’s finished loading up.

If you don’t use Dropbox, I strongly recommend that you give it serious thought!  Yes, there are other services, but none I’ve found that are so easy to use.  More, many others use it and it’s quite possible that you can make your life much simpler on file sharing.  The free version does have a space limit, but you can increase that by getting friends and family to use your referral link to sign up.

~ Steve

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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

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!

The perils of computers

Using a computer as a tool when writing holds very real dangers!  The other day, my PC decided that it couldn’t see its CD/DVD drive.  OK, so I take steps to try to sort that out.  The obvious thing to do is to insert the Windows XP installation CD and run the install-repair option.  Obvious, isn’t it?  Well, of course it enters an infinite loop, demanding a CD that simply doesn’t exist.  Off we go, on the netbook, to find advice on the internet.  Most of it is the same and works as well as a chocolate teapot!  Then I find something different.  The result?  Death of a computer!!  Fortunately, I had a brainwave and it worked – take the CD out of the drive!  That dumped the install session, though the PC proceeded to keep rebooting itself as it couldn’t find an operating system.  Fair enough, I’d probably crippled Windows by following that advice off the internet.  Problem: what was I supposed to do now?

Well, after wishing computers had never been invented and that I still had my trusty old manual typewriter (a massive beast that I probably wouldn’t have the strength to use any more!), and sitting with the blank screen staring at me accusingly, another brainwave.  If taking the CD out had dumped the installation process, then it should be safe to put the CD back in, provided I got into the BIOS and temporarily switched off the hard drive as a boot device.  Oh yeah!  It worked!  Now, I could tell Windows to reinstall.  OK, so it’s a process I hate, but it had become necessary by now.  Fortunately I have a very fast PC so it took far less time than the hours it had once taken, way back.

The horrible part of reinstalling the operating system, is putting everything else back on too.  And the worst part of that is trying to find the drivers for the system components, like the sound card and the Ethernet card.  Then, too, there are all those updates Windows demands… *sigh*  I’m still discovering software that I haven’t yet put back on.

While this was all going on, I still managed to finish a chapter of the novel, somehow.  That’s the best news of recent days.

Reading on a netbook….

I finally found an eBook reader that does everything I want it to on my netbook! FBReader is a completely free eBook reader that will handle all the formats that I need it to.  It runs very nicely under the cut-down version of Linux that’s installed on my netbook.  It allows the “paper” to be changed to any colour that suits you (I like sepia!) and even permits screen rotation.  The control keys are fully configurable, so that you can, for example, set up keys to move through the book in pages or scroll a line at a time.  The only problem I have is passing a “command line argument” from Jutoh, so I can’t (yet) launch the current book automatically.

The FBReader web site includes a very useful list of eBook sources, if you want to increase the size of your library!

FBReader is available for Android devices, Windows, Linux and a host of other systems, though some are older versions of the software.

A big step forward

I mentioned my netbook in my last post.  Well, today I resolved a big headache, namely not knowing the root password, which meant that I couldn’t update existing software or install many new packages.  Thanks to the “How to” section on www.laptopmag.com.  I’m now bringing it up to date as much as possible, though it’s a slow process.  Not only will I have the ability to write on the netbook, as already reported, I’ll be able to install packages that will make the netbook more useful generally!

The amusing thing is that I had searched high and low for some way to reset the password, and nothing workable presented itself.  I gave up after visiting more than 50 sites, many of which simply suggested the same things, or stated that it was impossible!  Then, searching for an ebook reader for the netbook, I followed a link and ended up at laptopmag.com!  Crazy!