Friday, May 22, 2009

Dark side of the digital divide

I'll of course be over-obsessively researching these topics elsewhere--it's what I do--but I figure some of you smart folks might have some first-hand input for me.

I'm so close to finishing the rough draft of my latest long story that I'm finally starting to feel the wind in my hair on that last downhill slide. Don't get me wrong--it'll probably be a month or so before I can write "THE END." What's left is bound to be something of a slow slog, and I'm an exceptionally slow slogger, especially in the summer. Still, for once I pretty much know what's going to happen, overall. I just have to get it all down and fill in the details.

I really want to edit this one to completion. Which brings me to the two topics of the day.

1. Novel editing software
I've never used any. I've also never completely finished editing one of my novels. Inevitably, I end up frustrated with the word processor, because as soon as I start shuffling scenes around, I lose them and have to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll looking for where I left that one paragraph. I also waste all kinds of time trying to remember details like what time of year it was when X had a birthday or A and B first met, or what color eyes I gave to Minor Character D. Is there such a thing as software that will let you parcel a story out into scenes, keep track of a time line, and with a section for character sketches? Those are the main things I think would be most useful to me. Like I said, I'll do the research (and how), but I'd appreciate any input. I'm a PC user, if that makes a difference.

2. Them there new-fangled netbook thingies
One of the things I've learned over the past six months is that I'm far more productive if I get out of the house. I'm sure a part of that has been lack of internet access (I've been writing strictly by hand), but I think a good portion of it is just being in a different environment. I work better if I detatch from the rest of my life for an hour or so.

With that in mind, I've been wondering how I could continue with the morning coffee house run, but do transcribing and some in-depth editing instead of writing, and I've been pondering picking up one of these little guys. They appeal to me because:
a)they're cheap
b)they're very portable (I could stick one in my purse, even
and c)the newer ones get five hours or more of battery life, so I wouldn't have to carry any kind of power supply.

I went to Best Buy the other day to just see what they looked like in person. The 8.9" models were a little too toy-like, in my opinion. I could see using them for surfing, but not real extended use. But the 10.1" were surprisingly usable. I didn't have any trouble with the keyboards on most. My favorite, surprisingly to me, was the ASUS model with the chiclet keyboard. I expected the keys to feel like calculator buttons, but they were...just fine. I have big hands, but skinny fingers, and I could type without any real loss of accuracy. The screen is small, but I think would be fine for my purposes. And the specs are actually better than my primary home PC. Go figure. Has anyone used one of these extensively and have any input on the various brands / downsides that might not be obvious at first glance? Thoughts, suggestions, snarky remarks?

They seem like the perfected version of the Toshiba Libretto, which I lusted after mightily back in the day....


Olympiaman1010 said...

Ahh remember the sub note book LOL AKA Netbook. My father worked for Digital who was bought out by Compaq and then later bought out by HP. I can remember he had a Sub note book by them and it always made me think. Why and where did they go? Then all of a sudden Bang, Their on the shelves as Netbooks. Although I must say their ten times better than what I remember back in the day. What you should look for is one with the Atom processor. They are the way to go for Netbooks. I am a Mac kind of guy and who knows if they will jump on the bandwagon as well. Good luck!!

Monda said...

I've been looking at little portable notebook computers lately. The only advice I have is not to buy one of those small Acers. A friend of mine received one for Christmas and it's been in the shop twice since.

It's not even the end of May.

Olympiaman1010 said...

WOW read some of this if you haven't already. I Thought it would fit perfectly for what you are looking for.

Joe VanCleave said...

I can relate to your lament. I recently purchased an MSI Wind, 10" screen netbook. They're hard (read: impossible) to find in local stores, so you have to purchase online.

I have a friend who is, shall we say, a computer nerd, who purchased three different brands of netbooks to compare their features (since you can't compare them in stores unless you live in NYC or some other big city.) His comparison was between the ASUS, the MSI Wind and another brand that my brain cells won't cough up. The ASUS is a bit more portable, but the Wind he says has a better keyboard, is better for "real work."

I like the Wind, the 6-cell model with 160ghz HD goes about 5.5 hours on a charge if you're in power save mode. Pretty good keyboard, aside from the shift key, which is too small. But usable, and I'm happy with it. It also has the "-G" wireless protocol, for you techies.

I've been writing a short story, it's around 8000 words and it's done (as far as I'm concerned). It was written in fountain pen on the Staple's Eco-friendly "bagasse" recycled sugar cane pulp paper (great stuff for fountain pen,) then redline edited, then typed on my Mercury manual, then redlined again. I finally typed it into my new netbook, using Open Office (the netbook came with a trial version of Office 2007, but Word 2007 uses a new file format called ".docx", so it's incompatible with past versions and most other word processors.) When using Open Office remember to set it up to use the Word 2000 format, which is ".doc" and most universal between word processors.

I ended up doing a bit more changes to the story after it was in electronic form; must be something about being able to see more of the text of the story in one view, as compared to 1.5 line spaced typing, that enables me to see the overall story as a unified whole. I also like being able to highlight words or paragraphs in background colors as an aid to remind myself that these parts need more research, or word-smithing, etc.

As for the novel editing dilemma, how about some story board software used in movie making? I can't recall a good software title right now, but you'd be looking for something that's more text based than picture based, obviously.

Keep us informed on what you find.


Olympiaman1010 said...

You mean a 1.60 Ghz or 1600 MHZ and a 160GB hard drive Non-Solid State which means there are moving parts. Solid state Hard Drives have no moving parts and are extremely fast when it comes to load times!! LOL Wireless G is what we are all using now but N is new. And you can make it so you are on a Cellular 3G signal as well. I am sorry joe just I don't mean to be an ass. But yea the wind is nice and it has the Atom processor too. Let us know what you end up doing.

Little Flower Petals said...

Thanks for the tip on the Acers, Monda--real world experience is useful! The Acer models are by far the most common here, but I didn't particularly care for the fit and finish of the ones I saw.

There aren't any MSI models around here. So the keyboards on those are pretty good? I'm reading excellent things about the Samsung models, too, and the NC10 (being just replaced) is going for the same price as the less premium models at the moment.

But I'm not sure I'm shopping at the moment.

I want a regular non-SSD drive, since I can use the extra space and this will be fairly well treated. I also don't think SSD technology is quite "there". Don't need anything beyond B/G at the moment, either, so I'm not ruling out the slightly less than leading edge.

Looking at yWriter software--anyone played with that? I need more time to tinker with it....

Joe VanCleave said...


The MSi U100 has wireless b/g/n and a 160 GB, 2.5" HD. I've heard the solid state drives consume less power but some have reported issues with fragmentation.

And my 1930's-era Underwood Universal has problems with caps not printing properly (the ribbon doesn't rise up enough, cutting off the top of the letters,) so there's never the perfect writing instrument!


Little Flower Petals said...

Thanks, Joe! Your input has been helpful--it sounds like our writing methods are similar (except I still use the lovely "Made in Brazil" 97 cent composition books, though I intend to try the bagasse eventually...), and it's good to know you've found success with the netbook as a final element in the writing cycle.

On the software side, I've spent part of the afternoon playing with yWriter, and while I'm not sure I'd use it for initial composition, I'm impressed with it so far as an editing tool. It lets you shuffle chapters around, keep detailed character notes, location notes, item notes...however you care to use it. The one feature it doesn't have is a place to easily document a time line, but I guess I can do that separately. It also has very low overhead, so it'd run just fine on a netbook.

Right now I'm leaning toward the Samsung NC10 if I buy soon. Reason: both because of the reputed quality of the machine and the usability of the keyboard, and because it comes in pink. OK, so I'm just the eensiest bit shallow....

Strikethru said...

This is totally unhelpful, but someone on Twitter suggested Scrivener to me because I had the exact same problem with the scrollingandscrolling, and the software is GREAT.

But its only for Macs. &^%@$

Netbooks will be EVERYWHERE in no time. I have a minor degree of insight into this prediction.