Writing: My Writing System Revisited

If you’ve been coming to this site for a while, you may have noticed one of my earlier posts about a writing system I was using at the time. Well, two years have gone by and after years of faithful use, one of the main ingredients of that system, a Dropbox editor by the name of Elements, has finally been sunset.

Change is good.

So with that sad fact come and gone, I’ve been faced with task of finding a new Dropbox editor to fill the iOS void that was wonderfully filled beforehand. If you haven’t read the post that I linked to above in the first paragraph, I invite you to do so. Much of that writing system still exists today and if you write on the go like I do, you may find it useful. Also, I don’t plan on rehashing it here so if you are looking for context, definitely give it a quick spin, it’s not too long.

Back? Excellent!

So after some research I’ve found two beautifully developed and highly capable Dropbox editors that have been out for a good bit, so I guarantee that you’ve heard of them. That old adage “Change is good” definitely has its place in this tale and, truth be told, the ending of Elements might’ve been the best thing that’s happened to my workflow in a good bit.

Bridging the Gap.

The fun thing about workflows is that no matter how much you love a process, it can always be tweaked into something lighter and more efficient. Even though I loved how versatile my last writing workflow was, there were places where it was quite clunky process-wise or hampered by the limitations of iOS at the time. I dealt with it all because those things were mere quibbles and they didn’t slow me down that much. But with Elements out of the picture, it was an invitation to see if I could refine everything a bit, maybe get rid of a few things and, hopefully, add functionality that could make writing anywhere that much more efficient and enjoyable.

So without further ado, here are the editors I settled on.

Writer Pro by the development firm Information Architects Inc and Editorial by the one-man shop OMZ Software headed by Ole Zorn. Both of these text editors fulfilled all of the current needs I had and then some. Without a doubt, the three main stipulations I had were:

  • Markdown support
  • Instant sync across platforms, or robust export options
  • The ability to save my flat text files to Dropbox

Of course there were others on the list, but these were the main ones.

One thing to note, these two apps are still somewhat new and are constantly being developed to accommodate much-requested user features. If you don’t see something in this post that you like, I highly recommend that you go out to their respective sites and have a look a the complete list of features, as well as look at what’s in the pipeline for the future.

None of these editors are perfect, arguably they never will be, but they are a joy to use and are well on the way to being even more feature-rich with the raw talent behind them. I mention this because writers are a finicky bunch. We like our writing experiences to be just so.

So I write this post knowing full well that these editors won’t be for everyone, but maybe for a few. Let’s hit Writer Pro first and then Editorial.

Writer Pro for iPad and iPhone icon

Writer Pro.

Writer Pro was a bit of a tough sell for me. I already owned its older sibling iA Writer (which is still just as awesome now as it was then) and was curious how they were building off of the stark minimalism that they’d strived and gotten so many accolades for in the past. Would it now be cluttered? Not as easy to use? Or worse, would the extra UI/UX come off as unnecessary?

Luckily, the answer to these and all of my concerns were “no”. I can say this, if you are an iA Writer fan and can’t think of a single thing that it could do better, stay put. There is no reason to jump ship to Writer Pro. But, if you’ve loved the experience of writing in iA Writer but wished it had a more robust feature set above Writer’s wonderfully implemented “just open it and write” aesthetic, than Writer Pro is more than likely your answer.

Here’s my short-list of Writer Pro’s strengths and weakness.

Strengths:

  1. Fully supports MD (with inline preview support).
  2. Dropbox sync. I can already hear it now. “Well hold up Tad, I just went to the site and Writer Pro doesn’t sync with Dropbox at all!!” Calm down. You’re right. Writer Pro does not sync with DropBox… yet. But it will. Soon.
  3. A built in workflow that is natural and develops habits conducive to good writing. Admittedly, I didn’t like it at first, but having written a few pieces in it, it is a nice systematic flow that makes sense to me. You can completely ignore it too, but I recommend giving it a spin a few times. You may warm up to it.
  4. Syncs via iCloud to your Mac and your iOS device instantly. Truly. I know there is a lot info out there about how much of a pain in the ass creating adequate sync can be on iCloud, but iA nailed with Writer Pro. There is barely any lag at all. Write on your iPhone, and it immediately shows up on your iPad or Mac.
  5. iA Writer’s spartan layout is here in spades. Not cluttered at all and easily read. Even the sidebar they added on the right is minimalist and can easily be hidden if it bothers you.
    1. Incredible syntax filtering to keep you in check with exactly what you are writing. It’s hard to describe just how useful this is, or how amazing it is to watch it in action. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s truly a game changer for me and the general clean up I do while editing.
  6. Saves as flat .md but exports to pdf, clean html, .docx, or .rtf. More than enough for my mobile writing needs (but some may want more).
  7. Full markdown html preview. Command-R and a pop up comes up instantly, showing you your Markdown, rendered in clean html.
  8. Night mode theme. If you write at night as I often do, this will save your poor eyes from a lot of undue strain. It’s a small thing but I really appreciated it.
  9. Feature parity across platforms. I’m used to losing features when I move to my iPhone or iPad. So it’s an incredible development feat to see a writing experience expressed so completely across my laptop and iOS devices. Nothing (that I can see) has been lost when I move between environments and form factors. Everything you need is there and easy to find.
  10. Has a very talented development house behind it. iA has some big plans ahead for Writer Pro. If there is something missing now, chances are it’ll be added in moving forward. They are meticulous folks, almost to a fault.

Speaking of faults! Here are Writer Pro’s weaknesses:

  1. No Dropbox support currently. Like I said though, it is on the way. iA has already mentioned explicitly that it will be in the next update.
  2. As much as I appreciate the current export options, I wish there were more. I’d love to write a message to someone and export the html straight into an email app for instance. Currently to do that I have to highlight all text, copy, open mail, start a new message, and then paste. It’s clunky and it doesn’t need to be. Adding more options would make Writer Pro a bit more versatile. Though I somehow doubt that’s what they are aiming for.
  3. The structure of the workflow may be a bit rigid for some. Note, Write, Edit, Read is fine for my needs but it may not work at all for others. Want to edit it or add another stage to the process? You’re out of luck.
  4. It’s definitely (and admittedly) a work in progress. The good news is that iA is definitely listening to its user-base. So if you need anything, go on and ask for it. If enough do, they’ll listen.
  5. Not many options to tweak the writing experience. By design, just like iA Writer before it, Writer Pro is a very stark and flat experience. What you see is what you get. Want a different font or just change the font size? Too bad. If this tact isn’t your cup of tea, then chances are you should keep looking elsewhere.
  6. Cost. Getting the iOS and Mac versions will set you back just shy of forty dollars. In a five dollar app world, this may be a tough sell. To me it was worth it though.

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Editorial.

Editorial made major waves when it dropped and it’s been years since I saw such a rabid fan-base grow around an iOS text editor. Having used it a good bit now I definitely see what all of the fuss is about. I also see that I have only just barely scratched the surface of what this incredibly powerful editor can do! If you are looking for a humongous deep-dive on everything Editorial click this link right now,  and read Federico Viticci’s review on macstories.net. It’s so long he created a damn e-book out of it. Don’t let that deter you though, it’s brilliant and well worth your time.

If it sounds like Editorial is a sledgehammer to use against a tack nail, well, it can be. In truth, it’s the biggest reason why I didn’t download it initially. I just couldn’t bring myself to use an editor that necessitated another learning curve. Turns out I was absolutely wrong on that count and developer, Ole Zorn, created a text editor that is yours to use however you’d like. Everything you can do (and there’s a lot that you can do) waits patiently, out-of-the-way, allowing you to just get in there and write.

That all said, like Writer Pro it has its strengths and weaknesses too. Here they are.

Strengths:

  1. Super clean layout. The first thing you’ll notice is just how inviting Editorial is when you open it. It’s even more incredible once you start discovering what it’s capable of.
  2. Inline preview support for .md and .mmd. Writer Pro does this as well but I like Editorial’s presentation better. It’s not as stark and it is more readable.
  3. Full markdown HTML preview. A quick swipe left immediately displays how your markdown will render on the web.
  4. Dropbox support front and center. Out of the box, you can assign to a folder in your Dropbox account. I plan to link this to a synced Scrivener project folder at some point, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
  5. Utilizes Dropbox versioning. Need something from a previous version? Deleted something you need back? No worries. Editorial has you covered. Super easy to use and some nice piece of mind.
  6. In-app browser for research. This seemed a little kitschy at first until I used it. Now I dearly wish all of my editors had a fully functional browser built-in. Not having to leave my editor in iOS to look up a link or research a topic gets addictive fast.
  7. A huge amount of options to tweak your writing experience. Head on into the settings after you get comfortable. If there is anything you’d like to change about writing in Editorial? Chances are it’s in there. Fonts, sizes, line-height, font-spacing, whew… the list goes on.
  8. Support for text snippets baked in. Got chunks of text or maybe a markdown page layout that you reuse over and over again? Create a text snippet and watch it immediately fill your document with a few taps. Very handy.
  9. Contains a custom workflow framework that allows you to perform a myriad of automated tasks. With these tasks you can do just about anything – like post your text into your blog on WordPress for instance – I’ve only just begun to play with these, but it’s mind-blowing what you can accomplish. Don’t have an interest in creating workflows? No problem. You don’t have to.
  10. Export Options. Because of the workflows above, export options in Editorial are almost limitless.
  11. Has full console-based Python support. Not a Python developer at all but if you are? You’re in for a big treat!
  12. Has a night mode theme. Like Writer Pro, if you write at night, your eyes will thank you.
  13. Custom top keyboard row in iOS. A beautiful custom keyboard row at the top awaits you! Streamlining workflows, snippets, as well as a very novel approach to moving your cursor around your document with swipes – it’s all about one thing, empowering your writing in iOS and saving you time.
  14. Has very talented developer behind it. Like iA, only with one guy behind the curtain. It’s incredible to me what he accomplished in Editorial. The app been called a “game-changer” by many a seasoned iOS veteran and it’s absolutely deserved.
  15. Cost. At $4.99, this app is a steal for all that it does.

That all said, it does have a few weaknesses. Some of them big ones. Here they are.

Weaknesses:

  1. Editorial can do so much that it is truly overwhelming at times. If you are curious like I am, you can easily (and often involuntarily) start geeking out on creating workflows when you originally came there to write. Luckily, as I mentioned above, most of it stays out of the way. But it is there. All those possibilities…
  2. On the flip-side, using it to its fullest potential does necessitate a learning curve. That may turn people off.
  3. iPad only. No Mac or iPhone version. This is a huge point to be aware of. If you don’t write in iOS on an iPad, Editorial is useless to you. On the one hand this is infuriating. On the other, I can’t imagine this app working well on an iPhone. On the Mac though? Definitely. Until then, you’ll have to snag your flat text files from Dropbox and open them in whatever OS X editor you love.

The choice is yours.

So that’s how I filled the recent gap in my workflow. It is not perfect, but I have confidence that it will get close to that quickly. Writer Pro will continue to be my bridge for when I need to sync my words across platforms and Editorial will more than fill my writing needs for when I am just carrying around my iPad. Two apps, loaded with functionality, fully mobile, facilitating my writing from wherever I may be, at any time.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Helpful Links:

Writer Pro: OS X download | iOS (universal) download
Editorial: iOS download (iPad only)

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:

highres-scrivener-logo

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)!

highres-3screens

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.

highres-paper_to_digital

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***

Tips: Rotating Video Files in OSX

UPDATE 01/22/2015: Hey guys, over the last year or so I’ve had comments (below) on this post where people have had issues with rotating their videos and saving them afterwards. There are many video formats out there that can easily play on a Mac, but may not play nicely with QuickTime. In my case, my video file was already QuickTime compatible (.mp4), so opening, modifying, and saving the file was easily achieved. If you are using any other format, QuickTime will try to either convert before it opens it, or simply not open it at all. If it converts, there is always a chance of file corruption (though I’ve personally never run into that).

Lastly, this isn’t a QuickTime support site. I will vouch for the steps below, as they work perfectly for me even today. But if they don’t work for you, there isn’t a whole lot I can do to make that situation better for you. You’d be better off hitting up Apple’s support forums.

Now, on to the original post!


Hey guys just wanted to post this quick tutorial because, quite frankly, after years of using Mac’s OSX, I still find simple, yet powerful ways to handle those odd technological problems I sometimes run into.

The Problem:

I was at a really wonderful Mardi Gras Celebration in downtown Durham this week and while I was there, I shot some video of the celebration. Well, there was so much going there that I absent-mindedly botched the orientation of the video, shooting initially in portrait and then 2 seconds later, rotating my iPhone into landscape mode.

The iPhone (or iOS I suppose) is somewhat dumb in this regard in that it holds onto the initial orientation of the what you were shooting and does not shift to accommodate a change like going from portrait to landscape on the fly.

So 98% of my video ended up looking like this:

Bad video orientation

In the past when I ran into this dilemma, I often stopped recording, quickly deleted the bad video, used the preferred orientation and then started recording again, not missing a beat.

But not this time.

And while I figured there must be some way to rotate the video after the fact (like countless image editors allow you to do), I was a little surprised to find there weren’t many obvious and easy ways out there. Eventually I found the answer in Apple’s own QuickTime app. Like a lot of helpful things when you are looking for them, the option was hiding in plain site.

Here are the steps:

Step One:

First open your video file in QuickTime. You can either fire up QuickTime first, go to “File” and then down to “Open File”. Or you could right-click the file itself, choose “Open With” and then choose QuickTime.

Step Two:

Once the video is open click “Edit” and you’ll then find the rotate and flip options straight below

Step One

Step Three:

Once you’ve locked the orientation you want, you then have to export your video with the new changes you’ve added. You’ll find the “Export” option under the “File” menu in QuickTime.

Step Two

Choose the file settings you want to export as and click “Ok”, to kick off the export.

When the export operation is complete, you’ll find your new file where ever you chose to save it with the correct orientation!

Correct Orientation Achieved!

This whole fix took me less than 5 minutes to complete, but depending on the length of the video, it could take much longer (or shorter, again, it varies).

Hopefully this helps someone out there who got into a similar jam. Or, at the very least, it’ll add another hit for Google to serve up. I was kinda giddy when I found it myself!

Hardware: What’s in my bag?

I’ve been reading a tech site called The Verge for about a year now (or since they launched at any rate) and one of my favorite features that they do is their “What’s in your bag…” series.

In these articles they take someone from their staff, or even guests, and ask them to write about the bag they carry everyday and what’s inside it typically. Not only do I find this topic oddly fascinating, but it’s also a great way to see what other folks in your field are using in their day to day to make whatever systems they have in their lives run smoothly. The writer in me also loves how it is a bit a character study as well.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to do that here in this space for a while and finally found the time to take pictures this week. So, much thanks and credit goes to The Verge for the idea and I hope you enjoy!

So here is my bag and all of it’s contents:

My bag and everything inside it

A quick rundown is in order I think! Here’s the list of what you are looking at (starting top left and moving left to right):

A pair of over the ear Sennheiser HD280 pro’s

  • A 13in Retina MacBook Pro
  • REI Quantum Messenger Pack
  • Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set
  • Leatherman Skeletool Multitool
  • Pair of Apple Ear Buds
  • Two thumbnail drives (One Ultra 2gig and another Sandisk 32gig)
  • USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices
  • Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor
  • 3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable
  • Square Credit Card Reader
  • Two small Moleskin Journals
  • My Mighty Wallet
  • My keys

Sure, there are other things that will sneak into my bag from time to time, but this is what I typically have in it everyday!

Now if you are already bored out of your skull, you might as well head back to your Twitter or Facebook feeds. But if you have that same curiosity that I have, stick around! Because I’d love to tell you about these things individually and show you why I carry around this stuff everyday.

Still here? Awesome. Let’s dive in shall we?

Sennheiser HD280 pro’s headphones

Sennheiser HD280 pro

I work in front of a computer for at least eight hours a day. During that time it’s mostly project-based work, so I find that listening to music is a wonderful escape from everything around me. Originally I used a crappy pair of cheap ear buds, then I tried the on-the-ear kind and in both cases after three straight hours of use, my ears were killing me. So it was around a year ago that I went on the hunt for a good (read: not super spendy), quality pair of over the ear headphones. I needed 4 things out of them:

  • Little to no noise bleed. I hate disrupting my neighbors.
  • Comfort. Good padding for prolonged use.
  • Above average sound quality. I am not an audiophile per say, but music is extremely important to me.
  • A long cord. I don’t want to take them off or have them yanked off my head when I reach for something behind me.

I already had a few folks that I trusted for reviews, chief amongst them Marco Arment, and when I found his comprehensive reviews of headphones last year like this one on his site, he frequently referred back to this pair of Sennheiser’s as his main pair for listening to anything hours on end.

I bought them from Amazon and have yet to think of buying another pair. They are very comfortable, have a long spiral, springy cord, emit very low noise bleed and the sound quality is exceptional.

A great buy!

13in Retina MacBook Pro

13in Retina MacBook Pro

As I’ve mentioned many, many times on this site; I am a Mac user. It’s nothing personal. I use PC’s and Macs all day at work and OSX is just fits my life and my daily workflows best. Both platforms have merit.

That all said, I spent around 8 months trying to live without a laptop, utilizing just my iPad and a bluetooth keyboard, and the gaps where a laptop could’ve really sped things up for me became too hard to traverse.

So I had to go back. I’ve been using the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display for everything about two months now and I can honestly say, without a single shred of doubt, that this is the finest computer I’ve ever owned.

And for those who are wondering if the screen is worth the extra cash: yes, it really is.

The bag itself

The bag I settled on is the REI Quantum Messenger Pack from REI. It’s nothing incredibly fancy but it’s got a padded sleeve for my computer, lots pockets for pens, notepads and all of my accessories, nice touches like a felt-lined pocket for your smart phone, mesh pockets for easy line of sight for anything you don’t want to dig around for, thickly padded shoulder straps… seriously, its a really great bag! What sold me on it though was the bag-length zipper on the side that unzips directly into the laptop sleeve so that it’s easy to take it out and put it back in while traveling.

It’s not all that expensive either if you can find it (it looks like it’s no longer on REI’s site).

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

I am, at times, a woefully impatient person. Especially when it comes gadgets and upgrades. If you have ever needed a computer screwdriver set in a pinch and didn’t have one on hand, you’ll know what I am talking about. If you have never needed a set, you probably view it as extra bulk.

I have needed them, several times in fact and after the last time, I stopped off at Lowes on the way home and snagged this set. I paid very little for it and I will definitely need a new set soon, as the heads are chipping and stripping from use over the years. My next set will be better quality for sure.

The whole set, when zipped closed, is quite light and takes up very little room. I just tuck them in, down at the bottom of my bag.

To this day, I am still shocked at how much I reach for these little guys.

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Like the screwdriver set above, I am shocked at how many times I need a good pair of needle nose pliers, or a good knife, or philips head, or a wire cutter, or a bottle opener, or a… well, you get the point.

I use the Skeletool both for hiking/camping, as well as my day-to-day. It’s light for what it is, but also incredibly well built.

Again, when I’ve needed it, I’ve been so psyched that I had it in my bag. It’s incredibly adept at solving problems.

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

These poor bastards have been through the wringer and are also hands down my least favorite Apple product. But, that all said, I keep them in my bag for when they are spatially more appropriate or when I am only sitting down for a few hours of work. The cord is too short, the sound is ok and, as you can tell from the glue on the ear pieces, they are falling apart. I basically keep them in my bag because they get the job done, but also I wouldn’t be bummed if I left them somewhere.

Two thumbnail drives

Two thumbnail drives

I move files around from computer to another a lot. I also like sharing. So in the case where items are too big to attach to an email or you aren’t networked directly to your needed destination: thumbnails drives are still pretty damn convenient.

Mine were cheap and the only reason why I keep to 2gig one around is because it still works like a champ. Mostly I always go for my 32gig one.

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices and a Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices

Incredibly handy when you need to offload pictures from a USB device to your iOS device. Also an amazing adapter to add to your travel kit.

The Thunderbolt to VGA adaptor is solely for work purposes. Because you’d be shocked at how many office projectors/monitors still use the old-school VGA connections.

3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

3ft 1/8" Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

If you ever are traveling and have wanted to plug your MP3 player into a stereo wherever you hang your hat for the evening, this cheap little cableis a must! Just plug it into the head phone jack of your player and connect the red to red and the white to white on the back of any stereo you encounter.

After a long day on the road, I am always relieved when I get to listen to my tunes through speakers. It’s not possible without this little travel companion. You can find them in almost any store in town, including most grocery stores (I bought this one at a local RadioShack on our last vacation).

Square Credit Card Reader

Square Credit Card Reader

I could seriously write an entire separate post on this tiny wonderful gadget (and I most likely will) , but this post alone is getting pretty epic so I will keep it short.

Square is basically an online service that allows you take credit card payments with your phone or tablet device. Just plug this card reader into the headphone jack of your phone, download Square’s app and you are ready to take payments from anyone. If you do freelance work or even run a full-fledged business, this little piece of plastic is a godsend.

Read more about Square here. You get the card reader free when you set up an account.

Two Small Moleskin Journals

Two Moleskin Journals

Though I do almost all of my journaling digitally now, I still run into the occasional instance where it’s just quicker to snag some pen and paper and scribble ideas and thoughts down.  These journals from Moleskin are cheap, take up very little space and the paper inside writes quite smoothly with any pen that’s nearby.  They come in lined and blank versions. I almost always use blank books because my note taking is a little unstructured.

My Wallet and Keys…

My Wallet and Keys

Yeah… so, this is my wallet and these are my keys….

I don’t like a lot of things in my pockets so I keep them in the zippered back pocket of my bag.

A lot of people ask about my wallet, I got it from “Mighty Wallet by Dynomighty Designs”. If you are looking for a thin (and I mean literally paper thin) wallet that can hold a lot and can take a beating (they are all made of Tyvek) that is super affordable. Give these guys a try! I got mine for the design and have kept it because it hasn’t given up on me or my lifestyle. Not yet anyways.

Wow… You Made It This Far! I’m Impressed!

If you made it this far, I am guessing you found some use or odd entertainment in it all, just like I often do. I know it’s weird but I just love reading how other people do the exact same things I do, but differently!

So what do you use in your day to day? Do you have some better suggestions for me?If so, leave them in the comments below! I’d love hear about them!

As always, thanks for coming by!

Writing: My Current Workflow…

As you could probably surmise from the length of my last post, I’m not only into techie geeky stuff, I also love to write.

Since I was a boy I’ve always loved telling stories. It’s what I did then (with my toys, friends and Dad’s old typewriter he had in the office) and what I still do today (less toys, better friends that also write, and many, many word processors). Though the platforms I use have changed drastically and will continue to do so, the spirit of it all still very much there. So what do I like to write? I typically write fiction of a darker tone, focusing a lot on Horror and Science Fiction. I’m pretty much always in the middle of writing something novel-length that I’ll inevitably have a hard time finishing.

But as much as I love writing and telling stories, I’ve also been falling in love with the process of writing as well. More specifically, the tools that are available to all of us today. So, with this in mind, I thought I would take some time to describe my current writing system to you all. My hope is that might inspire some to write more often and in more places. Because inspiration can happen anywhere!

Ok, full disclosure. I’m a Mac user and enthusiast. It’s what works for me and it all works quite well. I’m not going to debate the merits of other platforms, they all have their strengths. That all said! Here’s my setup on a hardware level:

  1. A 2011 Mac Mini in the office.
  2. An iPad (3rd gen) for writing remotely. Had a laptop, the iPad replaced it recently. I also use a stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard.
  3. iPhone (this gets replaced every other version. Currently it’s a 4)

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When I’m home, I generally use the Mini, it’s a little powerhouse, has much bigger screen and has a full size keyboard. All make for easier writing in general.

iPad SetupiPad Setup side view

When I am out and about and I know that I am going to write, I’ll bring my iPad setup. This consists of the iPad, a stand (The Compass by TwelveSouth) and Apple’s bluetooth keyboard.

Otherwise, I always have my phone on me, so note taking or even full on writing is always at hand. Though, admittedly, it’s tough to pull off a full-on jag of writing on an iPhone, I have done it a few times, which to me is kind of amazing.

So that’s the hardware involved. I’ve yet to have a serious problem with this setup. In fact, in the last year I paired down a good bit of my setup when it became clear I could supplement my iPad for a laptop with very little sacrifice.

But we all know that hardware is only as good as the software you run on it, so here are the tools of my trade, as well as the two scenarios I constantly run into that they accommodate.

First Scenario: I know that I am going to be writing on my iPad in the morning, finishing up a thought on my iPhone during my commute and tidying up on the computer (iMac) in my office. One document, on 3 separate devices, saved and synced each time.

Solution: iA Writer (OSX and iOS Universal)

iA Writer

This little gem of an app utilizes Apple’s iCloud service to sync between all of the above devices almost instantaneously. It’s pretty amazing to watch actually, and I’ve yet to see it fail. Not even once. Because it works so well, I’ve come to rely on this first system 75% of the time. It saves your files in text format or in straight up markdown (which is quite handy for blogging). While it’s preferences are basically non-existent (it’s a focus-based text editor), it performs it’s function, letting you write, quite well. I do wish it had better sharing options but there are a lot of easy ways around this. All versions of this app are full screen and very easy to read, leaving just you, the screen, and your words. Highly recommended and a silver bullet solution to the scenario above.

Second Scenario: I know I’ll be writing on any platform on the planet, PC, MAC, Unix, iOS, Android, etc… and will need to edit it on my iOS or OSX device later.

Solution: Elements for Dropbox (iOS-based) and a free Dropbox account for cloud storage along with the free corresponding Dropbox iOS apps (also found for Android devices as well).

If you have an iOS device and any kind of computer the solution above works great! It’s not as streamlined as the first solution but it isn’t difficult and it achieves the same result. Your writing will be synced and available across multiple devices. In fact, I have to hand it to Dropbox. Their service/product alone has enabled SO many opportunities to folks who need mobile cloud-based storage it’s pretty amazing. This solution worked perfect for me the other day when I was working on a text file at the office on my PC. When I was done, I saved it to my Dropbox account and headed out. I had some time at a coffee shop a bit later and fired up my iPhone to edit it more there, once complete, I synced it with Dropbox again and headed home where it was waiting for me to edit on my Mac with any text editor I had at my disposal. Easy peasey!

Elements is also a WAY more robust and full featured editor compared to iA Writer, which is incredibly spartan intentionally by design. I’ve used Elements for many other text editing functions other than writing. I’ve actually coded web sites in it on my iPad! Lots of options and very easy to use. In fact, if it supported iCloud sync and had a corresponding Mac app, I would be inclined to ditch iA Writer entirely and just use Elements. It’s that good. But both text editors are superb, they just were built for different purposes that’s all.

So that’s it! That’s my current writing system. I personally couldn’t love it more. I can write literally anywhere and when I don’t have a data connection, everything saves locally and syncs the next time that I do. With this setup, the technology finally gets out of the way, and with my full screen, distraction free text editors I am focused. Which is important when you are in a public place and get distracted easily. ;)

I whole heartedly recommend one or both of the solutions above for your writing. I currently use both weekly (sometimes daily depending on my needs). Hopefully it will encourage you to write more, in more locations and give you less excuses not too.

Here are all the links above in one place:

  1. iA Writer (OSX and iOS Universal)
  2. Elements for Dropbox (iOS-based)
  3. A free Dropbox Account
  4. Dropbox app iOS apps (also found for Android devices as well)
  5. The Compass by TwelveSouth
  6. Apple’s bluetooth keyboard

Also, if you are even remotely interested in an exhaustive list of all of the text editors available on the iOS platform, I recommend checking out this incredibly thorough article by Brett Terpstra. I can’t even imagine the time it must’ve taken to put this together.

Lastly, the very popular tech site “The Verge” just recently did a post about this very topic! So if you are looking for another take on all of this. Check it out here..

UPDATE: One of my favorite Mac and tech writers out there, Federico Viticci, literally today (04/27/12) just posted a very in depth article about his personal writing workflow as well! Be sure to check it out here.

Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully you found this useful!

~Tad