Astrohaus Freewrite Pictures

I’ve had some request for pictures of the Freewrite. Here they are taken on my phone with all my considerable lack of photographic skill.

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Tools For Writers: Notebook and Pen

I’ve never met a gadget I didn’t like. I own more computers than I care to think about, an Android phone, an Android tablet, multiple ebook readers and an Alphasmart Dana. I’ve always been this way– I’ve owned an Amstrad NC-200 (wonderful machine in its day), various Psion organisers, assorted Palm PDA’s. Basically any little device that promises to increase my productivity even in the slightest only has to sidle up to me sideways and wink and I will hand over my money, no thought required and no questions asked. I’m the same with software– God alone only knows how much cash I have ponied up over the years for word processors, writer’s software, clipping software, archiving software, To Do software. I shudder to think about it.

And yet in the midst of all this rampant tech addiction one tool stands out for its utility; a pen and a small notebook. I carry at least one, and sometimes more, with me wherever I go these days. They are handy for making notes, plotting, and shopping lists. The battery never goes flat and it’s very easy to see when they need to be replaced. If I write down a To Do list, I get to put a line through an item when it’s done in the most satisfying way.

These days I can even transfer the contents of my notebook to my computer quickly and easily using speech recognition software if I need to. Or I can scan the pages in and transfer them to Evernote.

Pens and pencils don’t exacerbate my RSI the way keyboards do either. I can tear out pages if I need to write down something for someone else. I can doodle and draw maps in notebooks as well. This is more useful to a fantasy writer than you might think. They are cheap and I don’t have to worry too much about one being lost and stolen. They are not exactly tempting targets for snatch thieves.

As a storage medium paper never goes out of date. Notebooks never lose data unless you destroy them or leave them in your trouser pocket when they go into the wash. I still have a small notebook I took on a trip to South East Asia with me 15 years ago. I can open it up and read the details of the Full Moon party on Koh Phangan. I can note that in those days the beach resembled the set of a Mad Max movie. I can see the names of the people who I sat in beachfront cafe and watched the sunset with. (Hi Stuart, Claire, Helen and Mike if you, by some strange chance, should happen to be reading this!)I don’t need to switch anything on or transfer files from some out-moded storage device or file format.

The most important thing is that a notebook can fit into a pocket and it is a very natural thing to take it out and write down an idea when it hits. If I don’t do this at the time, I will usually forget it. I have lost count of the number of brilliant ideas I have had (so brilliant that I could not possibly forget them) that have faded from my mind over the course of a couple of hours never to return, no matter how much skullwork I put in trying to recall them. There’s a school of thought that says they could not have been that outstanding because I did manage to forget them, but I have no truck with such cynicism.

I have even, very occasionally, written fiction in my notebook, scraps of scenes, bits of dialogue, once even the whole chapter of a story. I don’t actually like to do this since it’s much slower than typing for me, and I am going to have to transfer the whole thing to a computer in the end anyway. It can be done though.

Of course there is a downside. My handwriting can be dreadful, which means I spend more time than I need to puzzling out what I have written sometimes. In general though, carrying a notebook and pen is something I would recommend any writer get into the habit of.


The Tech Roundup

It’s a big week in tech for me. Asus and Acer have just announced their new ultrabooks, Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) is due any day now and, perhaps, most importantly Literature & Latte  have (sort of) announced a release date for Scrivener for Windows.

First up, the ultrabooks. I have long lusted after some version of the MacBook Air. It seems to be just about the perfect size for a travelling laptop to me. Somehow I can never quite make myself pull the trigger though. £1000 is a lot of money and to tell the truth I have been less than impressed with what I have seen of Lion. Heretical as it sounds to many people I actually prefer both Windows 7 and Ubuntu.  I have been living in hope that Intel’s Ultrabook initiative would produce something just as light and beautiful as a MacBook Air only significantly cheaper. The first fruits are becoming visible now.

Asus revealed their new Zenbook line yesterday, the UX 21 and 31. They look lovely. They are about as light and about as thin as a MBA and they are specced a little bit higher. The price looks too high to compete with Apple in this space though. Asus are making the same mistake as many tablet makers when competing with the iPad. They look to be charging the same price with specifications a bit higher. What has happened in the tablet field shows this is not the way to compete with Apple. One reason people buy Apple is BECAUSE it is expensive. They are making a fashion statement, purchasing a luxury brand. They are not buying specifications—they are buying a logo. No one is going to buy an Asus just because it’s expensive, no matter what specs it has and sorry, Asus, you just don’t have the cache that Apple has as a brand. I would not let the fact that the machine is an Asus stop me from buying it, but the current price will.

The Acer S3 is a more interesting take on the Ultrabook. It uses a hybrid SSD/ Hard drive system. The OS is stored on the SSD for very fast booting. Data is stored on the hard drive. The main advantage here is that hard drives are a lot bigger than an SSD and you can store an awful lot more data on them. It also lets Acer keep the costs down. The S3 comes in at $899, roughly $400 dollars less than the equivalent Mac. This is a large price advantage and I think it shows that someone at Acer at least has a grasp of the economic and brand realities. In terms of the tech, they are not simply copying what Apple has done either. The equivalent MBA is a higher spec machine but quite honestly I don’t care. The Acer has the things I want, light weight, decent battery life and fast boot times. Right now, it is the Ultrabook I would buy although Toshiba’s upcoming Z830 also looks good. I confess I will probably wait until next year before diving in to the Ultrabook market though. By then, production will have ramped up and costs will have dropped significantly. The new Ivy Bridge processors will make for some interesting things as well. For the moment though I am sticking with my fast fading MacBook Pro and my trust Acer Travelmate.

There’s not a lot I can say about the new Ubuntu since it’s not out yet. I will be downloading the new release when it becomes available and sticking it on a virtual machine to take for a test drive. I was not too thrilled by 11.04. I could see what they were doing with the new Unity interface but I was not sure it worked. By all accounts the latest version is a lot more polished which is exactly what you would expect. I doubt 11.10 will convince me to move from my trusty 10.10 but I suspect it will take us a long way down the road to a very impressive Long Term Service release in 12.04. This might be the one that sells me on Unity.  (For the record, I am sitting in a café writing this on an Asus eeePC 1001 netbook, running  Ubuntu 10.10. It works a treat).

And lastly I was delighted to note while reading the Literature and Latte forums last night that the official release of Scrivener for Windows is 31st October, just in time for National Novel Writing Month. As I never tire of repeating, Scrivener is the single best piece of software ever devised for the working writer and the main reason I am still on a Mac at this moment. I tried the earlier betas of Scrivener for Windows but they just were not stable enough for me to feel comfortable working on. I’ve recently been trying version .035 and it’s been solid. There have been one or two tiny glitches switching between Mac and PC but these have been trivial—things like the text in a section being selected when I open it. The latest version looks great and most importantly it behaves like Scrivener should. I’ll be giving this a try on Windows as soon as it is released and most probably taking it for a run on Linux as well. I’ll do a review at some point as well.

Anyway, I am off to work now. I’ll be back on Friday with more about Elves.