Archives for June 2011


For those of you not familiar with it, WINE is a compatibility layer that sits between the software and the operating system and lets you run Windows programs in Linux without actually having a copy of Windows. The results have been very impressive. So far I have the Windows versions of Evernote 4.4 and Microsoft Word 2007 running. I used the Playonlinux front-end for WINE to instal Word without a hitch. (There is no option for Evernote on this software so I did a manual install.) There have been one or two graphical blemishes occasionally but both programs run well enough to work with. Even more impressively they integrate with Gnome Do so I can launch Word by calling up Gnome Do and typing in the first couple of letters of the name. I still mostly use Writer to work on at the moment but it’s nice to know that Word is there if I need it. Editors tend to want files in Word format after all.

A Month Without Scrivener

Around one month ago I transferred all my files out Scrivener and started using OpenOffice Writer. This was an experiment and I was not even particularly sure why I was trying it. I said I would keep you all posted as to how it was going. The answer is surprisingly well.

There are some things I miss about Scrivener, the little touches like countdowns to deadlines and daily word targets in particular. Making the change has not really affected my productivity any. I managed my usual word counts for the month.

Some things are easier now. I can open the file on any machine from Dropbox and get to work right away. I have instituted a versioning system that lets me keep backups of my work as I go along. Basically I use the week number and a number one through to 5 for the workday, starting with Monday and finishing with Friday. I give all of my scenes descriptive headers so I can keep track of the document structure in the Navigation Pane. These let me drag and drop scenes around the manuscript pretty much as I can do in Scrivener.

Are there annoyances with Writer?

Sure. Find and replace is needlessly complex. The word count is problematical. I believe it counts curly quotes as words which means dialogue tends to pad your word count compared to other word processors. It’s easy enough to solve– either don’t use curly quotes or load your file into another word processor for a more accurate word count.

None of these things are deal breakers though. That’s about it so far though. There have been no crashes and the program has been very stable. I am happy enough with it to keep going for another month.

Find and Replace in Writer

I just had my first big bit of grief from OpenOffice Writer. I was trying to replace double paragraph breaks. In Microsoft Word you just go to Find and Replace. In the find box you type ^p^p and in the replace box you type ^p. Hit replace all and you are done.

Try as I might I could not get OpenOffice Writer to do this. I searched web pages and the explanations I got there were just beyond my comprehension. In the end, I found a solution although it involved installing the Alternate Search and Replace Extension (found here).

Now all I need to do is open it and type \p\p in the find box and \p in the replace box and hit all. It took me half an hour to sort this out. I am posting it here so you don’t have to do the same.

iCloud: The Hype Begins

There’s another interesting Apple puff-piece over at the Guardian. It sings the praises of Apple’s new iCloud as opposed to Google’s Web based approach to the cloud. The main difference is apparently that you can just fire up your MacBook and save your documents in the cloud and they will miraculously appear on all your other Apple computers from the cloud. You get to use local apps and not be tied to the browser as with Google’s offerings. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Another radical new innovation from Steve and the boys in Cupertino!

Well, no actually. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years on a mix of Apple, Windows and Linux machines using Dropbox (and sometimes LiveMesh) as have millions of people like me. I am sure that the Apple version will be polished and beautiful. I am sure we will be reading a lot more about in the Guardian but it’s kind of sad that their tech writers need an Apple press conference to uncover “innovations” that have been generally available for years.

Of course, the publicity will push this into the spotlight and Apple will get credit for it. Such is the way of the world.

Some of My Favourite Things: the Kindle

I love this device. I really really do. Even though I bought it from Amazon US and a month later Amazon released a more powerful UK version at about half the price I paid for mine (including postage and import duties) I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

Why? It lets me carry a library around in my jacket pocket. It’s light, its battery lasts for a month if I switch off the wireless connection and it lets me buy a new book or even get one for free pretty much wherever I am in the world. I am one of those people who dreads being without something to read. I will read the back of a Corn Flakes box if there is nothing else. This device saves  me from that awful fate.

I have been reading ebooks for a long time, starting with my first Palm organiser over a decade ago. With the Kindle, ebooks really came of age.

What makes the Kindle different?

Well, when I buy a book I don’t need to transfer it from my computer. It just appears on the Kindle. That does not sound like much but there is a level of convenience here that really changes things. There’s no messing around with cables or transferring books to SD cards. I can get straight down to reading.

The second thing is that when you buy a book for the Kindle you are not just buying it for the Kindle. Amazon has provided a whole range of software that will let you read your book on a Windows PC, a Mac, an iPhone or an Android phone. The only thing missing is a Linux version, so get with the program Amazon! This is a rare oversight on  the company’s part.

The books will appear on these other machines in the same auto-magical way they appear on your Kindle. Not only that the software will synch your place across all your books. You can read a few dozen pages on your Kindle, open the book on your phone and start reading again where you left off.

Another thing is that the books are stored in Amazon’s cloud along with your local devices. If you buy a new device, you can immediately have access to your library. If you lose the device, you still have the books and this is important because eventually the books will be worth far more than the reader.

Weekend Reading

At the weekend I downloaded Tarzan At The Earth’s Core onto my Kindle and sat outside in the sun and read it in a few hours. This was a book I loved when I was fifteen. It involves Tarzan joining an expedition to the hollow world at the Earth’s core, the dinosaur haunted setting of Burroughs Pellucidar novels to rescue David Innes from the clutches of the Korsars. It’s an odd book which features a lot of running around, cliff-hanger endings and prehistoric monsters. It ends abruptly as if Burroughs had reached his contractual word count for the project and just shut the whole thing down. There is no real structure, very little characterisation and the writing is clumsy. And still, I not only finished the book, I enjoyed it, even though I was aware of all these things. Some of it was nostalgia for sure but some of it was the sheer efficiency of Burroughs method and some of it was the pure pulpy joy of reading about adventures in a stone age world full of dinosaurs and sabre-tooth anachronisms. I downloaded this book for free from Feedbooks.

On Sunday evening I downloaded Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage (available for free direct from Amazon). This was something entirely different. The opening drew me in, the characters large-scale but complex feeling and the descriptions of the landscape astonishingly evocative. I’ve only read the first few chapters and I am gripped.

I spent part of Sunday afternoon reading The Ubuntu Linux Bible as part of my ongoing attempt to educate myself about the operating system. This is the sort of book I skim, dip into and re-read in chunks just to make sure I understand what it is saying. This version of the books covers the 10.04 Long Term Service release. I am waiting to see how the whole Unity thing turns out so I haven’t moved to 11.04. I suspect I will probably wait for Gnome 3 and the 12.04 LTS release before I upgrade.