Interesting Ideas: “Knock to Unlock” software…

I’ve been using this for a little over a week now and while it does have some issues with the LE Bluetooth connection to my phone (iPhone5), periodically causing me to quit and relaunch both apps (on the Mac and iPhone)… I gotta admit, it’s pretty awesome when it works.

There is about a 10 second lag from when I open up my rMBP in sleep mode to when I am able to knock on my phone (yes, I timed it), but it actually seems much shorter than that. I imagine this would be quite handy for folks out there with iMacs that are always on, locked, with a screen saver. When my computer is sitting there, locked and at the ready? It works like a charm with no wait whatsoever.

Other things I noticed:

  1. People out there flipping out about knocking on an iPhone clearly don’t own one. You’d think they were hitting it with a damn baseball bat instead of the knuckles on your hand! Please calm down. You don’t have to knock that hard at all for it to work.
  2. The initial setup is a breeze once your computer recognizes and pairs with your phone.
  3. True to their site description, your phone’s battery life doesn’t take a hit at all. It is one of the first interesting (and awesome) uses of Bluetooth LE that I’ve seen to date.
  4. Check out their site: knocktounlock.com, there’s some fun stuff going on in there.
  5. Before you buy, make sure your computer and phone are compatible!
  6. If, for whatever reason, your computer doesn’t find your phone via BT, don’t worry, you can still type your password in. Though that admittedly will make you snicker and doubt your purchase.
  7. If this app doesn’t make you hunger for the day that NFC (near field communication) proliferates our lives and devices a bit more, I don’t know what will.

I really hope they continue development for this fun idea! As I said, when it works it’s a lot of fun to watch (not to mention it’s a legit time-saver)!

Sold!! Where do I get it?

  • For your Mac, it’s free here.
  • For iOS, you can find it here, for $3.99 USD.

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***

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!