Archive for the 'Raves' category

 | May 14, 2009 3:59 pm

I just killed Twitter.  The whole website is down, it can’t even be pinged.  So … just in case I get asked about it, here’s my story.  I was trying to post an update about the brand new, easy to install binaries of LyX-Outline and then … the little twitter widget (twidget, what a sickeningly sweet name) went black and crashed.  Now, I can’t contact the website, even when I try to access it from another computer on the neighbor’s wireless.  Who’s to say that little people don’t have any power?

Update: Okay, in the face of both reality and facts … it may be possible that I did not kill Twitter, per se.  But my interaction most certainly had a negative consequence.  That, at least, you have to give me.

 | May 13, 2009 6:16 pm

Writing anything – whether it be a book, or a short story or an angry letter to your boss – is substantially more than starting from the first idea moment of inspiration and continuing to the final draft. Rather, writing involves a fair number of idea fragments, fleeting moments of inspiration, and a tremendous number of dead ends.

It is incredibly unfortunate that most writing software, however, is geared to organizing and structuring the document after most of the hard work has already happened.  It simply assumed that most of the planning and layout has already happened and the author is ready to string words together.  Unfortunately, this assumption overlooks one important truth: ideas are best defined as they are expressed.  Thus, it’s usually about the time that the a writer sits down to compose the draft, that the document’s true structure becomes apparent.  In my own case, this often leads to a flurry of reorganization.  And it’s during the restructuring that the real battle begins.

When in full creative passion,  I am typically working with three or four different programs all at the same time: OneNote is open so that I can access my ideas, Word is there to start collecting the somewhat finished text, and I’ll also probably be using a MindMapper so that I can see a visual representation of the document structure.  The tools are separate and don’t communicate with one another.  Thus, a change made in one place needs to be made everywhere.  And all too often, that I end up fighting the word-processor and the notetaker, and the mind mapper.  It is tremendously frustrating to battle the tools of your adopted trade.  Luckily, I am not alone in my frustration.

In the past everal years, a number of programs have become available that leave the linear model of writing behind.  On the Mac platform, one such tool looms above the others: Scrivener.  Central to Scrivener’s function are two important metaphors: that of the outline and that of the corkboard.  And it works really, really well.  There are just a few minor problems.  First: Scrivener is only available for Mac and Scrivener’s lead developer has made it clear that there won’t be versions for other platforms.  Second: Scrivener was really designed with creative writing in mind.  Thus, while it can be used for long and complicated documents, this is a slightly less than straightforward process.  Last, to create said fancy documents, Scrivener requires the raw use of a markup language (and all of the associated headaches that come with it).

The document processor, LyX, however, excels in many areas where Scrivener falls short.  It is built upon the mature and robust underpinnings of LaTeX, the typesetting language of choice in the science and engineering.  And more importantly, it is easy to use (where LaTeX most decidedly is not).  But it fails in the same way as Microsoft Word and other word processors, it is a linear writing tool and doesn’t offer a great deal of work-flow flexibility.  That is where LyX-Outline comes in.

LyX-Outline is a marriage between Scrivener’s organizational tools and LyX’s typesetting tools.

 LyX-Outline Main Window (Mac OS X)

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 | March 13, 2009 2:25 pm

I don’t really like telephones all that much.  I understand that they are a necessity of modern existence and can be greatly convenient, but that doesn’t make them pleasant.  They ring incessantly and result in virtual slavery to an overly complicated lifestyle.  Keeping track of callers on a home phone, a cell phone and a work phone is a nasty piece of business.  It usually means running two (or three) separate voicemail inboxes.  And there is nothing worse than battling voice mail after a long weekend.  Nothing.

Luckily, Google agrees with me.  In 2006, Google acquired a California based start-up called GrandCentral.  GrandCentral had a pretty simple vision of phones: they should work for people.  That means one number that never changes, for life.  Here’s the vision: landlines change, cell phones change and work numbers change.  It is far more convenient to provide people with a single number that can ring to work, home and cell.  One number instead of three.

GrandCentral did all sort of other nifty things too, like send e-mails when a new voice mail arrived, let you transfer calls between phones, screen callers before choosing to answer, and automatically direct individuals based on who they are or what day it is (useful for sending the boss to voice mail after 5:30 pm).  Even David Pogue of the New York Times had nice things to say.

But for everything it did well, GrandCentral also had some rough edges.  For one, it didn’t support text  messages. Thus, when I experimented with GrandCentral a year ago, I also had to give out my cell-phone number.  And while I would tell people to call me on the GrandCentral line, said people preferred to call me on the cell phone.  After all, they wanted to make sure that I would answer; never mind that GrandCentral would ring to my cell office and home all at the same time.Google Voice

At some point. Google decided that they would overhaul the service and GrandCentral shuttered its doors to the public.  And while the service remained active for people who were already subscribers, I found that GrandCentral became a fancy business number due to its limitations.  Today, after nearly 21 months of development, Google announced GrandCentral 2.0: Google Voice.  I think it’s fair to say that Google’s developers took off the rough edges.

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 | February 27, 2009 7:37 pm

MobileMe.jpg MobileMe (the email, contacts, calendars and file service from Apple) is something that seemingly everyone loves to hate.  It’s too expensive, doesn’t work right, and doesn’t really offer anything that you can’t find for free.  This winning combination of traits have lead to more than a few articles detailing how to sync, share and publish without handing even more money over to Apple.

Even with the plethora of articles explaining how to save time and money, however, it is possible to find happy users of Apple products.  Users which will “vigorously” share their “carefully considered” opinions.  One user from MacWorld raises the following (somewhat legitimate) points:

Are you the pot or the kettle?  First you say don’t expect the rest of us to have the same needs/wants, and then you make a blanket statement … [which] is full of assumptions that are not necessarily correct …

  1. “It’s way to expansive.”  If you only use web hosting, then maybe.  MobileMe is $8.25/month.  how much is hosting?  Does hosting give you automatic sync of photo galleries, contacts, ect.  How much is Flickr pro on top of regular web hosting.
  2. Alternatives are not that hard to find, set up or use.  Really?  It seems that not everyone knows of alternatives.  And then why did the commenter have to make suggestions and corrections?  It seems to me [that] it’s not as easy as you say.

This happy MobileMe user has essentially laid down a challenge.  He implicitly (and others explicitly) state that they are willing to pay good money for their time.  And in the same bravado common to members of the Cult of Cupertino, he almost dares someone to disagree with him.  Since this topic has become a bandwagon and I’ve decided to generally hop in its direction, I accept this challenge. You might even say that figuring out ways to avoid using Apple’s signature web service has become a bit of a hobby.

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 | January 29, 2009 3:39 am

At this moment, I’m lying in bed sandwiched between a yellow dog and a little brown and white dog and a much chewed upon stuffed witch.  And it is good.   It’s been a somewhat hectic day and the irritable sleepy dog on my leg is quite pleasant.

Actually, that’s not quite right (well the bit about the hectic day at least, the little sleepy dog is still quite irritable).  It’s been a somewhat hectic couple of years.  In that time, big momentous things have happened and my life has changed from backwards to forwards and the world spent a substantial amount of time feeling decidedly insane.  Then 2009 arrived and things are … better.  And while busy, life has been somewhat happy.  With all that, though, I’ve spent the past several days working on a big project stuff involving the University and miscellaneous messes … and after it’s done … things will be different.  My big thing will hopefully change things, and then, I’m going to finally move on and go do … whatever comes after completing big world changing stuff.  Or at least big changing stuff that will completely alter my place in the world.  If that makes any sense.

In the meantime, I read an interesting article at Zen Habits.  While I tend to not reside within the demographic for self-help type things (I fall more more naturally into the self-beyond-help group), sometimes it is simply good to read things that sound like collections from the bottom of mashed Chinese fortune cookie bags.  It thus stays in my RSS reader.  Anyway … the guy who writes it asks an interesting question, “What would you do if you only had a short time to live?”  Well, other than the obvious things, I think the answer to that is this: not much different.

A couple of years ago, I watched my aunt pass away from a brain tumor.  She went the way I hope to go, loved and surrounded by family and friends.  While she could have done just about anything, she was happy to keep doing the little things.  Get up, pack lunches, help with homework, gossip with neighbors, argue with children, etc.  After all, while we might despise them, it’s often the little things which make life bearable.  (You know, things like lickly little dogs who steal socks.)  Even when you’ve got big world changing stuff to do.

So … I think I’m just going to lie here sandwiched between a yellow dog and a little brown and white dog for a while.  Because it is good.