Software: How and Why I Use Vesper…

UPDATE: On February 27th 2015, Vesper is officially universal! More info here.

UnknownWhen Q-Branch dropped its note taking app “Vesper” weeks ago, it caused quite a splash in the tech community. Mostly because of the design team behind it (John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus) but also because of how divisive it was on a functional level. Everything it did right (and there’s a lot) was somewhat obscured by everything it didn’t.

What I am NOT going to do…

To date, if you Google “Vesper App” you’ll get 589,000 results, most of which crab about the app’s faults and what’s it’s missing or extol it’s design achievements thoroughly. My opinion? For a variety of reasons, both camps are right, so I won’t waste anyone’s time going through the arguments on each side. You can read those elsewhere (don’t worry, you’ve got a lot of articles and posts to dig through).

What I wanted to do here is pose my argument for buying a note taking iOS, iPhone-only app that is beautifully designed but has no syncing capabilities (to iCloud or any other devices).

Where I fit in

On my iPhone I currently have about six text editors, Vesper makes that total seven. I am one of those geeks/writers who appreciates text editors for the experience they provide. For text that I need sent anywhere I go with the oft-mentioned Drafts . For long-form writing on iOS, I still use iA Writer and Elements. When I need to write a letter to someone, I use OmmWriter. If I have notes that I need to share with my wife I use iOS’ Notes app. Naturally I hedged on purchasing Vesper because if I am being honest, I really didn’t think I needed it.

Why I folded

In the end, it was all of the talk about the UI/UX that got the best of me. Everyone of those apps I listed above I use frequently and not because of the service they provide, but because of how they deliver it. For most people, that aspect of software isn’t all that important. For me though, it’s always had value because it assigns a purpose to its respective app. Because of this, I get better quality results out of different apps for different reasons. And it’s on this point where Vesper ended up performing a sneak attack on me – because of its design, I ended up finding a distinct purpose for Vesper in my day-to-day workflow.

Less is more

Aside from being an absolute joy to use (and the hype on this is thoroughly true), ironically, it was its lack of sync that ended up being the reason I started using it almost every day. Before smart phones and apps, we all carried around Moleskins to jot down thoughts and reminders and we were overjoyed when apps replaced that function; one less thing in the pockets right?

But, the thing is, those apps ended up doing so much more – syncing on other platforms, sometimes with other people. Dead tree notebooks never did those things: they were never backed up or magically synced to other notebooks. When they were burned or dropped in a swimming pool, they were gone completely.

Vesper is very much like that old experience and in a way I find that to be its biggest strength. As a simple app, it recreated that link I used to have with notepads and scratch paper.

Sure, there are excellently implemented search, in-app browser, archive and sharing features mere taps away and you can even tag notes (hallelujah!) and add pictures if need be. But those are options I find that I seldom use (outside of the tagging, which I admittedly use a lot) and I feel the app serves me better for that. Because of its stripped down approach, I don’t write “mission critical” stuff in Vesper. It’s all disposable and very temporary. And the fact that it’s in such a distinct silo (only in one app on my one phone) makes it easier for me to know where I wrote what. In other words, for me, in this case – less is definitely more.

Sledgehammers and tack nails

I am sure I am alone in this, but I actually hope they don’t add much more. Outside a few minor things (at the end of the day, I do wish there was a back up of notes to iCloud, if only for disaster recovery and getting a new device) I find this app to be one of those thoroughly complete iOS experiences that doesn’t really need much refinement.

It’s a total joy to use, is fast, stable as hell, intuitive to navigate, and does exactly what it was advertised to do: help you “collect your thoughts”. There are plenty of all-in-one text editors out there that do a lot of things Vesper doesn’t. But, for me anyways, many of those are heavy lifters and they are two clunky and complex for the tasks that Vesper accomplishes so well. Sledge hammers against tack nails. Some times you just need a tool that fits in your hand perfectly, is counter balanced just right and won’t potentially obliterate your target.

For me, Vesper is that tool for notes and I am glad I finally started using it.

Where you can find it: iOS App Store

Writing: a System I Used to Write a 508 Page Novel…

This last spring I finally finished the first draft on a NaNoWriMo novel I started back in November, 2011. Spanning several years, computers and locations, I thought I’d share the software/hardware system I used for writing it.

The Software:

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It’s quite simple really (with a few twists), I used Literature and Latte’s Scrivener for almost all of it. Scrivener’s superior handling of MASSIVE documents in tiny chunks (in my case, chapters divided up into individual scenes) is solely responsible for me completing this novel. Period. The ability to manipulate your manuscript on a modular level – dragging and dropping individual chunks to where ever you see fit – completely changed the way that I write long and short form documents.

But it doesn’t even come close to stopping there! Nope, no way! There’s also a place in the app for character descriptions, corkboards for resources, images, notes; anything really. Word and page counts (along with goals), a mind-blowing set of preferences, full screen modes, support for several different coding languages (!?), a character name generator, the ability to add inspirational pictures as backgrounds whilst in full screen mode… the list is genuinely exhausting (in a good way) and I haven’t even brought up the various ways you can export your manuscript once you are done with it (epub, Kindle, pdf, MS Word, rich text, plain text, you name it and Scrivener can export to it)!

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Scrivener’s main strength however has always been in the way that it easily gets out of your way and lets you write. Sure, you can do everything I mentioned above (and WAY more), but you also don’t have to at all. It’s as complex or as simple as you want it to be. It easily and elegantly adapts to you and your workflows. It simply enables you to write.

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A lot of care clearly went into the making of this software and you can see this attention to detail when you use it.

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For the more complexly layered scenes I also used L&L’s mind-mapping software Scapple. I’ve already written an overview about this software on this very site in the past, so I won’t reiterate it but I will say that if you have any scene that contains a lot of moving parts, I can’t recommend Scapple enough. It really succeeds in getting your thoughts and moments organized and in order. I formed the climax of my novel entirely in Scapple before I wrote it. Because of this, writing it wasn’t nearly the herculean task I thought it was going to be. Sure, working the scene up in Scapple was additional work on top of everything else, but in the end it was absolutely worth it and that scene was much, much better for it.

Add in Scapple’s drag and drop compatibility with Scrivener and you’ve got a one-two punch that’s hard to beat.

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Those two programs alone did about 90% of the heavy lifting, the rest spanned across two iOS text editors that I took notes, or wrote a few scenes in. In those instances I used Agile Tortoise’s “Drafts” and Second Gear’s “Elements 2”, both of which I have mentioned and written about several times here on this site. What can I say! When I love something, I like to write about it! With the syncing capabilities of these apps, I was able to transfer scenes, notes, outlines, etc… very easily and in plain text/markdown, to where ever I needed them (mostly Dropbox, where I also stored a periodic back-up of the entire manuscript). They played a small role, but were vital to the process nonetheless.

Hardware used:

The novel at any given time could be found on a 7 year old iMac, a Mac Mini and a retina Macbook Pro when I worked through OSX. A small portion of it was written on a 3rd gen iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.

Other tidbits:

  • Music-wise, I wrote this book almost entirely while listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ “The Social Network” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” soundtracks. It was a work of science fiction and those soundtracks suited the scenes in my head so well that they never got old. They are a good length too, so you know when to take a break when one finishes.
  • When I originally was writing I was compiling weekly .epub’s so that my wife Melinda could read along, but she caught up too quickly and I couldn’t write fast enough so I eventually stopped. She loved the process (and the story) though.
  • I finished the final scene on an Amtrak train heading back home to Durham from Charlotte. I certainly hadn’t planned it that way, but that’s how it happened. Trains here in the states are rarely used when compared to other forms of transportation, so it was a pretty cool and unexpected moment.

***All images in this post were supplied from Literature and Latte’s Press Kits for Scapple and Scrivener***

Design: WTHR – A Simpler, More Beautiful Weather App

Hey guys,

This popped up on the ole radar this week and I thought I would share. If you know the intricate inner workings of my mind (poor, poor you…), you will know that I have an amazing soft spot for weather and, by proxy, weather apps.

WTHR iPhone APP

Well, a new one dropped this week called WTHR and it’s design is just too good not to share with you all. What I love the best? The screenshot above pretty much tells you everything that the app does! It gives you the weather of where you are at in a simple, clean and beautiful way. No radars, not barometers, no ten day forecasts… just the vitals.

Love the style. Love the delivery. Love the app.

One important note: It does have some issues with its first release. It leaves the GPS search running even AFTER you’ve closed the app. Pretty big bug, as that can lay waste to your battery life, but I am more than confident that they will fix that in the next release (a lot of weather apps have delivered with this bug). So, wait for the next release or snag it now for 99 cents (?! – link above).

If you love good app design and aesthetic, this a bit of a no brainer.

UPDATE 07/11/12

The developer for WTHR released an update to iOS app store, just yesterday (tookWAY longer that I would’ve thought) that fixes the issue above. You do have to reset your locations services though which can be found in:

Settings>General>Reset (bottom of the list) >Reset Location Warnings.

If you are just buying it now, you don’t have to reset a thing. Just use it an enjoy!

It’s a shame this bug slipped through the testing process. Oh well, it works great now!