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Friday, December 28, 2012

Plot Points for 28 December, 2012

Today's Plot Points concerns What's the Matter with Oliver?, and in particular one of the BattleMech pilots in the platoon, Edgar "Eagle" Jennsonn.

Edgar is a skinny, white, tall (6’ 2”, 190#) former professional v-baller recently conscripted into the Lyran military.

Former professional volleyball player for the Donegal City Sting on the planet Donegal, deep in Lyran space. Attended college on a volleyball scholarship but left after sophomore year to take a slot in the pro leagues. Played for two years before being conscripted and selected for the Lyran military, became a 'Mech pilot due to his very quick reflexes and ability to turn the initiative, learned from a long history of sports.

Grew up on Alma Alta, the son of Darius, a mid-level corporate manager for Lockheed-CBM Corp., and Adilade (née macTavish) Jennsonn, a housewife. Two sisters, no brothers, but one male cousin also conscripted into the Lyran Tank corps.

"Eagle" has just recently completed the Regiment's intake program, and the events in Oliver are his first combat action. He is not by nature violent, and has a tough time reconciling the realities of his job with his more compassionate nature. The competitive fire born of his lifelong sporting certainly helps him to cope, but being a combat pilot of a BattleMech is a mite bit different from stomping on them in a volleyball match.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two new(-ly discovered) free options

As I noted earlier, I have been continuing to keep my eyes open for free options for writers who wish to unchain from the desktop and become Cloud Authors, and in so doing discovered two additional options that hadn't come up before. Both of these options are free-as-in-beer (though, both are proprietary and therefore not free-as-in-speech), but both do one thing none of the others do: permit creating and editing of documents in native Microsoft Word format.

"Why is that important?" you may ask. As is noted by +Guy Kawasaki and his co-author +Shawn Welch in their book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book (or in paperback form), Word is ubiquitous in the realm of publishing and editing, and nearly everyone you will want to deal with while writing or publishing your book will need Word-format files. Whether you like Microsoft or not (and, for the record, I don't), you will probably need to deal with their Office software eventually. In addition, it really is the most appropriate word processing software application for most writing. There are some alternates, and for simply writing down your book's contents (or, jotting notes and capturing ideas RIGHT NOW NOW NOW) these will do fine, but eventually any author will need Word.

With that in mind, why not use it on your iPad? Well, for starters, you can't go to and download iPad or iOS versions of Office; Microsoft simply doesn't make one (though, it has been reliably rumored that they will, soon, release a version; it is unlikely to be free, however). BUT WAIT! While it is true that you can't download Office from the App Store, or Microsoft's website, you can get Word on your iPad! How is this miracle possible? Are we talking about doggedly-slow Citrix? Are we talking about using some kind of Remote PC magic? No, not today. Today, we are talking about two products that allow you to run Office software on your iPad, and that do not cost a cent (above your cost for the iPad and any data plan you might have purchased).

The first offering is OnLive Desktop, from OnLive. The OnLive Desktop gives you a virtual PC desktop, with Office 2010 installed, and access to 2 GB of cloud storage on the OnLive servers. On the back-end (by my understanding), OnLive is a Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with the OnLive iPad app acting as the client connection. When the app is first opened after download and installation, it asks you for a username and password (or to create a sign in) for the OnLive service; you can also perform this initial account creation from the website, if you prefer. After creating the account, and logging in, it takes a few seconds for the app to connect to OnLive and then you are greeted with a Windows desktop, on which are shortcuts for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader, a Getting Started shortcut, and the Recycle Bin, Sample Files, and Documents icons. There is a Windows task bar on the bottom, with shortcuts (including one for a pop-up keyboard, Paint, and a calculator). In essence, you have just put a Windows Explorer on your iPad, though since the app is just a front end it really doesn't seem to take up much space.

I have noted a few things about it that I don't particularly like; it is slightly sluggish even on a WiFi network with no other devices vying for connections, it's Windows on your iPad (basically), and although it syncs to the OnLive servers, getting your files to your main computer (if you are so inclined) requires downloading them from the website (that is, the free option does not offer any way to use Dropbox, or SugarSync, or any of the other Cloud Storage options). You can pay to upgrade to a version that does permit that; the OnLive Desktop Plus version allows for Dropbox connectivity as well as some priority connection ability, and other options, but is a monthly fee and not a single payment.

The other app is CloudOn, from CloudOn, which does things a little bit differently. Once you have downloaded and installed, launch the app and you are greeted with a page to either sign in, or sign up. Much like OnLive or many other apps, creating an account is just giving your email and creating a password. The app then takes you through a series of setup steps, permitting you to create connections to your Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, and/or Box accounts, and then going through a brief introduction to the app, then putting you into the CloudOn workspace. The short version of this is: there's a button that permits you to open Word, Excel, or Powerpoint, creating a new file; or, if you've connected to any of the other Cloud Storage options available, you can drill down into them and open files directly. The interface does take a little bit of exploring to get the feel for how it works, but it really does work.

Like the OnLive Desktop, typing in Word in CloudOn seems ever so slightly sluggish. Aside from that, I don't yet have any real complaints about CloudOn, particularly since it connected to my Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive accounts with no problem.

Next week, I will be doing a review of some of the paid options available for writers (aside from paid-upgrade versions of the free apps already reviewed), and then I will be making a report and a recommendation for any would-be (or, about-to-be) Cloud Authors out there.

Updating reviews, more coming

Hopefully, everyone's Christmas/Yule/Hanukkah/whatever was productive and rich, and if you're lucky perhaps you've received a new iPad and are looking for apps to use while writing!

I recently posted a blog where I reviewed several apps that are for creating and editing text, all of which are cost-free apps (some with paid upgrades), and since I posted that entry I've discovered a few more. In fact, I've discovered a couple of free apps for the iPad that permit creating and editing Office files (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) on the iPad in an environment that looks just like using those apps on your computer. Look for my full review a little later today!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review of some free text editors

This week, I'm going to break down some free text editors available for iPad, though some of these are also available on multiple platforms. I will note one trend I've seen, pretty much across the board: if the editor is free, it doesn't do Rich Text; if it does it uses a proprietary storage format–that is, if you want to edit with bold/italic/underline, use inline graphics, use bulleted lists, etc, you have to either pony up some cash or deal with files that are not saved in RTF format. While seemingly a small hassle, it can get distracting to not have basic word processing tools like bold and bullets. Same is true with file formats; it's a reasonably simple thing to copy-and-paste, until the document is more than a few pages long, and then Donovan's Corollary of Proportionality to Murphy's Constant kicks in. Murphy's Constant, for those unaware, is "Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value," and my corollary to that is "the chance of damage is proportional to the amount of matter"; this implies that the longer your copy-and-paste is, the more likely it is to import incorrectly, and the more likely it is to need fixing. In an ideal Author-using-an-iPad-to-write-with world, there'd be a simple, free-as-in-beer RTF editor that stored data in standard RTF files. Alas, that doesn't seem to be the case.

With that in mind, it is perfectly reasonable to use the free options that are available, along with one (and quite possibly more) of the free storage options noted earlier (also, see my followup), and write down those things that hit you while sitting in line at the Motor Vehicle or Emissions sites, or while waiting for your Venti Peppermint Mocha, or whatever. I do not, however, recommend using these for all of your whole writing project except as an experiment; there's so much effort involved in massaging and hand-holding their output into a powerhouse word processor that it's much less hassle to use that word processor for your book or project. A brief note: nearly everywhere you might want to publish, whether that is through traditional publishing houses, artisanal publishing such as is covered in the APE book, or any other way, you'll need to output your final manuscript as a Word file (.DOC or .DOCX). That's just the way it works, right now.

As a later blog entry, I am going to sit down and make an actual recommendation including recommended configurations and installs for a Cloud Age Author (I really should trademark that, huh?), as a guide to getting started and going forward. Also, I want to note that in most cases, I link directly to the App Store or website for whatever I link, but there are occasionally links to desktop software, and occasionally to books or other things. When I link those items, the links are generated from my Amazon Associates account, which means that if you click on them and purchase the item, I get a very small referral fee. It's not much, but in the interest of full disclosure, wanted to make sure you were aware of that.

The Editors

First, the free plaintext editors:

Simplenote is a plain-text editor with a few extra, bonus features thrown in for good measure. First, it has a system to tag any notes you make and keep them together, so you can organize your notes by project or even within a project by type (say, 'research' and 'plot outline'). It has a couple of options to keep your notes stored on Simplenote's servers, and there are some Mac OS applications capable of connecting to it and using that storage directly (in fact, if you use Scrivener to write with on your Mac desktop or MacBook, it has explicit support for Simplenote).

  • Free (as in beer); using it requires free registration.
    • When registered, free version will maintain 10 levels of revision (meaning, it will keep the last nine saved versions of a document, and also the current version)
  • Multiple Mac OS applications can connect to it (Scrivener, Notational Velocity, Justnotes)
  • Ability to tag and organize notes
  • Premium version ($19.99/year) allows connection to Dropbox for storage, as well as a 200% increase in revision storage (maintains 30 levels of revision in premium) and other perks.
  • Search function; search box is at the top of the note organizer area, and searches through the currently selected group of notes. To search all notes, select the "All Notes" group.

  • Plain text only (no bold, no italics, no bulleted lists, etc.)
  • While not hard to set up, does require a little bit of setup to use even the free version to its full potential
  • Requires registration to use.

PlainText is a plain-text editor with simple organizational capability; each note can have a title (kept separate from the text itself), and you can create folders to keep related notes together. Even in the free version, it permits linking to Dropbox. In addition, it will connect to a third-party iOS utility TextExpander(touch), which permits the creation of abbreviations to be expanded automatically into longer text (anyone who used a Palm device recalls these; also, several control panels for older versions of the Mac OS used to offer this functionality). With TextExpander (which is not free), you can create boilerplate text and insert it with a short abbreviation. 

  • Free, ad-supported (ad is small banner along bottom edge of screen, and not terribly intrusive, though I found it distracting everytime it switched; someone with less raging ADD could probably ignore it). Upgrading to non-ad version is $1.99 and can be done in-app.
  • Very simple editor
  • Dropbox integration built-in to free version, can be used without Dropbox.
  • Search through all documents

  • As with all apps in this category, plain text only.
  • Exploiting some functionality requires purchasing third-party tool

DraftPad is, plain and simple, an app for taking notes. When you open the app, you get a blank page, with two icons: upper left, a "do something" button (apparently called "Assist" by DraftPad), and upper right, a "done" button. "Assist" permits you to use the contents of the current note to do a variety of things, including: create a new email or SMS message with the current note, search google, youtube, google maps, the iOS 6 maps app, tweet, make facebook status, and on and on. There are a lot of options in this list, and the capability to create more, as well as a connection to a Library of additional assists that are not pre-installed. The app only supports one note; this note can (theoretically) be arbitrarily large, but only one note exists at a time. To create a "new" document, you "do something" (through "Assist") with the current note, then clear it (select all/delete or swipe Left or Right, and a "Clear" button appears). As such, it's less useful as a tool for writing a book or whatever, but is quite useful as a simple tool for jotting down information, notes on research, or even just those "A-HA!" moments, where you absolutely need to jot something down and remind yourself later. For those, it is eminently useful, made more so with the "Assist" feature.

Say you've just had an epiphany about how your secondary protagonist must die in your action novel. You whip out your iPad, open DraftPad, type "James Secondary gets run off the road by the FBI agent/KGB mole, dies in a fiery vehicle crash against the guard rail" and then tell DraftPad to "Email" this note to your agent. Easy-peasy.

  • Word/Character/Line count: tap title bar to cycle through word count, character count, and line count.
  • Uses iCloud to sync to any other iOS device using DraftPad
  • Supports TextExpander
  • Wide range of options to deal with current note, with many more able to be installed, and the capability to define even more.
  • Almost all of the screen is typing area. Small title bar at top with two buttons. Uncluttered and non-distracting, allowing the user to focus on the writing and nothing else.

  • Only one document.
  • Again, plain text only.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Three additional Cloud Storage options

Here are three more entries in the Cloud Storage field. I have kept these reviews a bit shorter, since I haven't used them much and can't really review their utility just yet. What I can do is at least point them out, and as I have a chance to use them more completely I will revisit them.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Free Storage: 7 GB (with additional storage-for-a-fee options)
File Size Limits: 2 GB upload limit through the Mac OS and Windows apps, 300 MB through the web interface
How it works: SkyDrive is Microsoft's Cloud storage entry, and works very similarly to the other offerings in this category. To download and use the skyDrive app, you must sign up for a Microsoft Live ID, if you don't already have one; if you do, you can use the existing account.

First, head to the SkyDrive site, and login with (or create) your Microsoft Live ID. If creating an ID, it will ask you for quite a bit of information; just be aware of this. There are links to download the app installer for various OSes, and the Android and iOS apps can be found in their respective stores. Using the skydrive is very much just like Google Drive or Dropbox; you can either upload through the web interface or use the SkyDrive app on your device and save files and folders there. They upload, and then are available through any of the SkyDrive apps.


Free Storage: 5 GB (with additional space for a fee)
File Size Limits: No specific file size limits
How it works: SugarSync is very similar to the other entrants in this field, and installation and use of this service works much the same: go to the SugarSync website, scroll to the bottom, and click the link for the operating system/device you are installing on.


Free Storage: 50 GB (additional space available for a fee)
File Size Limits: 200 MB
How it works: Mediafire is a bit different from the other entries in the Cloud Storage area; instead of a desktop or mobile app that displays stored items on whatever other device you have the appropriate app installed, it is a web-based service. It's in concept not different from uploading your files to an FTP server then retrieving them from a different computer or device; one major advantage that Mediafire has, however, is its enormous storage (compared to other options). Mediafire is, in my opinion, a good option as a central location to store things like your book's illustrations, beta/review drafts of your works, and so forth. If you are diligent about uploading your new files every single time you edit a document, it can be used instead of any of the other options here, but doesn't offer any way to automatically sync your edits to the storage (unlike, say, using SimpleNote and Dropbox).

Scroll of Mirimar character profile

Yeolin Turch, bard

Yeolin is a recent addition to the party. He’s worked on and off as an entertainer, court jester, and musical performer. He adventured for a time when he first left home, and has since traveled very widely through all of the land. He is quite knowledgeable, having done extensive research and traveling, and he is adept at card games; so much so, in fact, that he sometimes has difficulty resisting a good card game. He is specialized in the short sword, and has done a remarkable job (for a rogue!) in both blind fighting and potion brewing, a skill he learned during a short apprenticeship as a researcher for a mage in the Long Lands. Yeolin is 30 years old.

Yeolin is extremely quick and smart, and in battle prefers to take a few seconds to size up the enemy; depending on the situation, he may use ranged attacks against enemy spellcasters or bow/spearmen, he may cast low-level magic spells, or he may attempt to hide in shadows, flank the enemy, and backstab opposing leaders or rear-line types (mages etc.). He has a wide knowledge of rogue weapons; in addition to the short sword he also has at least passing abilities in short bow, dagger, dart, throwing knife, staff, club, mace, blackjack, spear, javelin, morning star, and polearms (he’s a versatile man), but is an expert only in the short sword (that whole jack of all trades thing).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

_APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book_ review

I recently came across a posting from Guy Kawasaki about his new book, APE: Author, Publisher, EntrepreneurHow to Publish a Book, and was delighted to be able to take part in the immediate pre-release review. I’ve been a fan of Guy’s since his days as Chief Evangelist at Apple, and jumped at this opportunity. I hadn't been keeping close track of this book or what it is about, so I came into it not knowing what to expect.

According to APE, self-publishing is stigmatized, rightly or not, and so the process of writing a book, and publishing through non-traditional means, should be viewed not as a vanity exercise, but instead treated artistically. He refers to this type of serious publishing by authors as “artisanal publishing,” to separate it from the stigma associated with so-called “self-published” works.

Success as an artisanal publisher of your own writings, Guy argues, requires the filling of three roles, mostly simultaneously: Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur (or, APE… and, hence the title). The target audience for this book is primarily authors frustrated with online or eBook publishing by traditional houses, or new authors looking to self-publish but unsure where to start, and it is these authors who will find the most wisdom in his experience.

The book is essentially a compilation of the information that Guy and his co-author, Shawn Welch, found useful while attempting to overcome the hurdles faced when the publishing house of one of Guy’s previous books ran into difficulty with large eBook production, and his experience rectifying some of these issues.

Boiled down to one sentence, APE is a primer on artisanal publishing for anyone who writes, and wants to publish, and in that it is an outstanding guide. I’ve been researching and digging up information on publishing, and particularly “self-publishing” for more than two decades now, and this book taught me quite a bit. The “Author” section of the book covers some fairly basic things, including making a recommendation for your authoring platform (an Apple Mac Book Air, with Microsoft Word) and when needed, detailed explanations for how to configure and work with other platforms or programs. It also briefly covers other software, such as Pages and Scrivener, and others. In addition, APE covers financing, and a little bit of storycrafting, as well as pretty well exploding the romantic notion we all have about how our soon-to-be-bestseller will progress.

In the Publisher section, APE goes into extensive detail about the various options available to an artisanal publisher, and breaks down important things like royalties, pricing strategies, and formats, as well as a very helpful guide to converting your manuscript from what I call “writing-mode” work (word .DOC or .DOCX file, or .SCRIV from Scrivener, etc.) to “publishing-mode” (MOBI, EPUB, PDF, or whatever your final output may be). It covers everything from publishing and distributing eBooks to getting very small-batch printed books (like a “vanity” press might perform) to large-scale printing of hard- and softcover books. Even with my many years of exposure to this information, I still learned a lot reading this section.

Finally, the section on Entrepreneur brings together some useful information about marketing and PR, including some great tidbits on using social media for reaching your target audience. It covers both some traditional PR coverage, and how to do your own PR, as well as “new-media” ways to extend the reach of your marketing.

Then, at the end, Guy and Shawn detail how they used the advice contained in APE to actually write, edit, publish and market APE. It is not a long chapter, but shows step-by-step what choices they made, as a proof-of-concept.

If you are a writer, and you are disgusted with traditional publishing, don’t want to deal with that hassle, or simply would rather publish your work yourself, APE is the best book I’ve come across for doing your own publishing. Its principles are to put the tools for publishing into the hands of the people doing the writing, democratizing publishing in the process.

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book ships on 10 DEC 2012, through Amazon as a Kindle eBook (ISBN 978-0-9885231-1-1). Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch wrote it. You can get more information from the book’s website ( ).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An important review ... must wait

Today is Wednesday, and Wednesday is the day I do an in-depth review of something, whether that's a tool, or a toy, or a book ... and this time, it's a book.

But, it will have to wait. See, I didn't get it until yesterday evening, and haven't had time to finish reading it yet! So, I have a book review due today that will be done tomorrow.

I will tell you that I think it's important enough to make this delay necessary. So, tomorrow it is! See you then.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Comparing free Cloud storage options

One of the main things that makes it possible for a Cloud Age author (and, lends us the title of the Age itself) is the ability to create content on any kind of a device, store it "In the Cloud," and later access it from just about anywhere.

This freedom can be had for, well, free (as in beer), and should you choose to there are also options if you'd like to pay for some extra storage or capabilities, but today I'm just going over the options that are cost-free. When there are products that have a free basic level and a paid option I'll certainly note the upgrade options, but reviewing them will come another day (if needed). Also, Windows users, I will post an additional blog entry a little later which covers Windows and these various items, how to download and install them, etc. I use a Mac at home, and an iPad while mobile, so my focus is initially on how to make these items work for Mac and iPad authors.

So, in alphabetical order, here are some of the top free cloud storage solutions:

Amazon Cloud Drive

  • Free storage: 5 GB (with paid upgrades if you need more storage)
  • File size limits: None specifically listed that I could find.
  • How it works:
    • Mac users will download an app from the Amazon website (you must already have an account with Amazon, however), and then drag the app into their Applications folder (or wherever you store your applications). Double-clicking on the app will place an icon in the Mac system menu bar, which looks like this:
    • Clicking on the icon gives these options:

    • The main option here is "Open Upload Window" which then opens this window:
    • Dragging files & folders here will upload them to the Amazon Cloud Drive.
    • Using the cloud drive on the iPad requires some finesse; since uploading files requires Adobe Flash, it is not possible at the moment to upload files through Amazon Cloud Drive on the iPad. 
    • Using the cloud drive on an Android device is done through any web browser which supports JavaScript and Adobe Flash; uploading through the web's interface and downloading by clicking the file you'd like to download.
  • Verdict: For sharing documents between your home computer and your Android device, Amazon's cloud service is fine; avoid it for your Cloud Age writing projects on the iPad (so far, I have not come across any apps that connect to the Amazon Cloud Drive, at least not that advertise being able to do so, and there is no "download" per se on iPad. I am working on a way to do so using iDownloader, but have run into a couple of issues). Having said that, the Amazon Cloud Drive is a fine option for sharing documents you'd like people to see, such as short stories or your book proposal, if your agent will accept them in this format (it might save considerable time if you can get your agent to read it from the Cloud). Also, this is one good option for storing your manuscript when you want to later retrieve it from your printing location, or if you send your document out for language translation or conversion (say, from RTF or DOC or whatever format into .mobi or .epub format). Sharing the document is easy, through the web interface:

    • Clicking the "Share..." option shows a pane with a URL you can copy and paste into an e-mail to your editor or formatter or agent or whomever, allowing them to access that document specifically.

Apple iCloud

  • Free Storage: 5 GB (with paid upgrade options)
  • File Size Limits: varies with the apps used; no specific file size limits listed for Pages documents
  • How it works:
    • Apple's iCloud is essentially a seamless background storage, in the cloud, for any of the items you choose to include in the iCloud storage pane. To access this, open up the Settings app, either on your iPad or on your Macintosh. Select the items you wish to be synced into iCloud (keeping in mind that some of these items share the storage space; Apple's website states that purchased items such as music or movies do not).

  • Verdict: iCloud is the easiest and most natural way to use Mac and iPad devices to edit common files. If you are already using Pages on your Mac, and have Pages on your iPad, then using Pages to edit your files from the cloud wherever you are and access them on your Mac at home is ridiculously simple. Since Pages is not free, and my point is to find Free ways you, as a Cloud Age Author, can be mobile and not pay much more than the cost of your daily latte and the iPad itself, I have to refrain from recommending iCloud as a tool for the Cost-Free Cloud Age Author ("patent pending"). It certainly does have it's uses, though, even then; for example, the Photo Stream makes it simple to take pictures and movies while out-and-about, and then edit them when you get home.


  • Free Storage: 2 GB (with paid upgrade options)
  • File Size Limits: unlimited from the desktop computer; 300 MB upload limit from the web interface.
  • How it works:
    • Dropbox is basically a remote disk you mount on your home computer like a disk drive, copy files to, and then it syncs in the background. On the mobile device, you download a free app, and use the free app to access the files you've stored.
    • Many apps on the mobile side, both iPad/iPhone and Android, directly connect to the Dropbox using their APIs, which means that opening files from Dropbox in many apps is trivially easy. I will discuss how to do that exactly when I review those apps, because the procedure depends on the app. For now, just keep in mind that this is possible, and fairly easy to do with both free and paid apps alike.
    • To upload from the computer, you download the application from the website and run the downloaded installer. Like the Amazon Cloud Drive, it installs a menu icon in the system menu (the green checkbox means "all items are synced"):
    • Which gives the following items in a menu when clicked:
    • It also installs a folder on the desktop:
    • This folder acts just like any other folder on your computer; you can create subfolders, or upload documents ad hoc to the base level of the Dropbox folder, or however you choose to organize. When items are dropped into the Dropbox folder, they immediately start syncing, and the menu icon (above) will switch from the green checkmark to a grey circle animation, with two arrows pointing toward each other and moving in a circle (this lets you know that the dropbox is syncing). When this is complete, the icon switches back to the green checkbox.
    • At this point, any files you have synced will be available in the Dropbox app on your mobile device (available through whatever application store your device uses, whether that's Apple's App Store, Amazon's Appstore for Android, or Google Play, or whatever). When you are in the Dropbox App, if you click on an uploaded file a preview of it shows in the pane. One of the icons (what looks like a desktop-type file basket with a curved arrow pointing down into it, in the upper-right corner of the Dropbox interface as I am looking at it in my iPad) is essentially the "open with ..." icon, and clicking on this icon allows you to select the application with which to open the current file. This alone makes it really simple to use for a writer, although there are apps that directly support opening Dropbox files within the app, and this is usually easier when you're in the heat of the writing streak and want to open (or create a new document and save it) a file in (on?) your Dropbox.
  • Verdict: definitely easy to use, natively supporting Mac OS, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS, it has a relatively limited amount of space compared to other services. However, if all you are going to do is store your writings, and perhaps use one of the other services for your photos, illustrations, or personal storage, the 2 GB limit should be no problem. Even massive novels written in Microsoft Word or Pages are unlikely to reach this size (a Microsoft Word file of 2 GB would be approximately 128,000 pages; given that War and Peace, one of the largest novels ever written, is approximately 1,440 pages, even filling only half of the space with one file would easily make it the longest novel in human history!). A highly recommended piece of the puzzle for any Cloud Age Author.

Google Drive

  • Free Storage: 5 GB (unlimited storage for any documents converted to Google Docs format)
  • File Size Limits: 10 MB for non-Google Docs format files
  • How it works: Similarly to Dropbox or the Amazon Cloud Drive, the Google drive can be accessed by installing the Google Drive application to your computer, or you can access it through the web interface.
    • From the Google Drive site you click to download the application, which you then drag to your Applications folder.
    • Open the application to begin; note that you will need to have, or create, a gmail (or have a google apps) account in order to use the Google Drive. It will step you through installing a folder in your home folder, and installing a menu bar item as well:
    • Clicking the menu bar item reveals the following menu:
    • Locate the Google Drive app in your choice of store (Apple's, Amazon's, or Google's, or whatever) to install the app on your mobile device.
    • From your computer, you can start syncing files by either uploading them through the web interface or adding them to the folder (selecting the "Open Google Drive folder" option in the menu takes you straight to it). Like Dropbox, you can create subfolders ad hoc and organize however you please.
    • In the google drive app on your mobile device, click on the file you wish to edit. Like Dropbox, you can elect to open a file with an application on the iPad by clicking the icon in the upper-right corner; unlike Dropbox, there is a built-in editor for Google Docs documents.
  • Verdict: An excellent choice, with essentially unlimited free storage if you convert your documents to Google Docs format. This gives a couple of advantages, most importantly the Google Drive has a free Rich Text Editor built-in for editing Google Docs text documents! While it is no Word, or Pages, it has the basic necessities for any writer to write text documents, and support some basic rich text like italics, bolding, underlining, and font control (basic font control; no kerning or leading adjustments), as well as bulleted and numbered lists. It also permits sharing with other users, if you use Google Apps (say, if you have an illustrator or editor you work with a lot, you might consider creating a free Google Apps account and sharing that way).

There are two other entries into this field, both somewhat newcomers, which I will review in a separate entry: Microsoft's SkyDrive service, and SugarSync. I will also cover a non-app storage option, Mediafire, which has quite a large storage option even for free users, but does not directly support mobile content creating while on-the go.

Coming Attractions

So I'm working on a few different projects as an author, but also on some blog-specific ideas and directions, and I wanted to give everyone a head's-up on what some of the coming attractions are in the blogosphere.

Tuesdays are now Reviewdays. Yeah I don't see that catching on either, but what the heck, let's see if we can start a trend. Tuesday blogs will be on one of the aspects of writing, publishing, or sides of the Cloud Age author, starting with a post later today about free Cloud storage options, how they work, and how I think they rank. Next week's entry will be a broad comparison of some free text editing tools, and the following week I'll cover some not-free but inexpensive writing tools, and both of them will cover briefly how to make the Cloud storage work with those tools.

Wednesdays I will cover in-depth a specific tool that I find useful, whether it's a computer-based software package or an indispensable  iPad app, or even a book, website, or other blog that I've come to rely on as an author.

Fridays are Plot Points, and will cover backstory items for my current projects, including character sketches or places, perhaps a snippet of a chapter I'm writing, or historical or other background information. Also, Plot Points could be a Q&A, so if you have any questions about any of my books, or their characters or history, feel free to ask!

I am still awaiting final information about the publishing of at eBook I wrote about Paramedics in the United States, and when that information is released to me I will make sure to share it with you here!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

/The Scroll of Mirimar/ Character Profiles

For our first overview of some of the major characters in /The Scroll of Mirimar/, let's introduce Tey Knowlton, the primary protagonist and leader of the hardy band of adventurers at the center of the story.

Tey is a human warrior, the son of a horse trainer of some moderate renown in the eastern parts of Gleasi. He was brought up from a young age to help the family business in training and selling horses to area businesses and families, working with his father for several years in that endeavor. As a youngster, he was once thrown from a horse during a training session, flying face-first into a fence. The scar from this accident gives Tey a gruff, tough visage that belies the truly kind heart of an animal trainer. As part of their horse training and selling business, Tey and his father spent many weeks delivering expensive horses and equipment to various places all over the eastern kingdom, and were often the target of bandits and other opportunists. As a result, Tey was trained from an early age to lose bandits while being tracked, how to use missile weapons (short bow and spears in particular), and how to defend himself and his horses with several different melee weapons. Tey himself has become a master-level swordsman with a long sword, and combined with the massive strength he's developed over two decades of hard work, is capable of decapitating or dismembering opponents with his first swing.

Both fortunately, and not, Tey did not have a permanent home growing up; his home was the often-wild lands of eastern Gleasi, Mander, the Great Eastern Desert, and even into both Zinn and Tloi. One result of this is that he really had no childhood friends, but he learned very well how to defend himself and has struck up some very deep friendships with a few of the customers they delivered to over his years working with his father. One of them, Emker, adventures with him to this day.

Initial impressions as a mobile author

I've only really been doing this mobile writing thing with any gusto for a few weeks, though I have dabbled in the past with various older devices (read: monstrously heavy laptops without WiFi, and backpacks full of reference books). So far, though, I can make a few basic remarks.

First: freedom! (Imagine that you hear Mel Gibson in the background, as Brendan Gleeson [Hamish] and David O'Hara [Steven] close their eyes in disbelief.) By that, I mean that this whole setup is really very freeing. Where "this whole setup" = an iPad (3d Gen) + any of several apps for editing text + WiFi at Starbucks + coffee. Or insert your favorite caffeine. And sub MacDonald's WiFi for Starbucks, or whatever other public WiFi hotspot you choose.

Second: I've been an Apple user since 1991, and a hobbyist developer on Apple products since 1995, and so most of my perspective on this process will be from the Alabaster Dais of the Apple. Whenever possible, I will endeavor to explain the process and tools in a platform-neutral way, but just keep in mind that I have an iPad, not a Galaxy, and don't run Android, so I don't necessarily know what Android apps can be used instead of whatever I've reviewed. With that said, I will at least attempt to note Android- or Windows-compatible apps when I can do so.

Third (and finally, for today): For anyone who might be on the edge of the hedge, deciding whether to jump into an iPad or other tablet device or swing for a full laptop, I will say that I use this iPad just about as heavily as a Laptop, and it serves outstandingly in the role of "Portable Computer." I will note that I don't use my iPad for photo storage, nor for music (I have an iPod, and that's where most of my music goes, and I do have a desktop computer with > 2.5 TB of storage). So, the lesson of iPad qua Laptop Replacement really applies primarily to people who have a computer at home they can use as a touchstone.